As the Knicks enter the regular-season homestretch they’ll be doing so on their last legs — perhaps literally.
A torn meniscus has shelved Linsanity for the foreseeable future, as point guard Jeremy Lin is out at least the regular season and almost certainly the first round of the playoffs, should they hold onto their lead for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference standings.
“The season is what it is, [but] everybody is going through it,” said interim head coach Mike Woodson. “There’s just not enough time to teach and if you have injuries that makes it even worse. But I still have to find a way to push them. ... It’s been a crazy season.”
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The craziness has been taken to new heights now that Lin’s injury has given way to a full-time role for Baron Davis. The Knicks’ main storyline went from a point guard who rose from obscurity to a point guard who was once a shining star, but is now merely a savvy veteran role player.
Davis, who’s been battling his own maladies, said he has no other option but to try to pick up the slack. Banged up or not, the once-explosive point guard said sitting out isn’t a choice.
“I gotta be ready. No choice. So, I’ll give it my all and see where that leaves us,” said Davis, who’s been nursing a sore hamstring as well as a herniated disk that kept him out most of the season. “We want to finish these last 13 games as strong as possible. It’s difficult considering the meat of our roster is injured. But everyone has to band together and play team basketball.”
Woodson agreed with Davis that it will take a team effort to help ease the burden of no Lin or Amar’e Stoudemire. The coach also admitted he has the daunting task of managing Davis’s minutes in hopes of not burning out the still-recovering guard.
“I can’t play him 30 [to] 35 minutes because it’ll take him too long to recover,” said Woodson. “He may think that[he is ready], but I’ve been around him enough in this short time to say [otherwise]. He thinks he’s there, but he’s not there yet.”
Woodson then insisted he has faith in Davis’s backups should they be called — even though the average minutes of play he doles out to them say otherwise. Woodson’s unenviable task of balancing Davis’s minutes are challenging considering the backups, Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby, are infrequent participants in the rotation.
“His [Davis] body is physically beat up and he has a few nicks and bruises but he’s a trooper and he’ll continue to play. He’s going throughtherapy sessionsevery day so wehave to keep an eye on him and take it day to day,” Woodson said, also trying to pump up the reserves. “But Toney and Mike Bibby have to be ready to play, just in case. That’s why they’re on the team. … I have confidencein everybody that suits up in a uniform.I have to, [because] what’s inuniform is what we’re going with.”
Should Davis or his reserves falter, the coaching staff has even toyed with the idea of letting rookie Iman Shumpert run some point guard again in case of emergency. It won’t be the first time, however, as Shumpert handled some of those duties under D’Antoni. It was an abject failure, as the neophyte swingman was still trying to figure out how to play the off-guard and small forward positions. But Woodson said using Shumpert in moderation could be useful, especially as a way to keep defenses off balance and give the veteran point guards a breather.
“Baron and Bibby are crafty veterans and they’ve been around. I feel comfortable enough with them — and Toney too who’s been in and out of the lineup. They can all run the offense,” said Woodson. “So we’ve actually got four point guards[because] we can always push the rook to point. … Maybe we can hold it down until Jeremy gets back. But I don’t know. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
»While clearly disappointed, Lin sounded like a guy who fully intends on making it back on the floor by the time the playoffs roll around: “It’s disappointing to me and it’s hard to watch the games [because] I want to be out there more than anything to help the team. They said it’s a six-week rehab process, but I tend to heal fast. I’ll come back as soon as possible and will still contribute this season.”
Lin saw the irony in how timing played a huge part in both his early success and now the knee injury: “If this happened to me earlier in the year I don’t know where my career would be. I would definitely be without a job and probably fighting for a summer league spot. But having said that, this happening right now hurts just as much because we all really put our hearts and souls into the season and to not be there in the end when it really matters the most is hard.”
» The absence of Lin may not be all that bad for one particular Knick, as Carmelo Anthony’s numbers have actually been higher playing with Davis. When paired with Lin, Anthony averaged just 18.5 points per 36 minutes, as opposed to the 25 points per 36 minutes with Davis on the floor.
Anthony said he enjoys playing with Davis and has total faith in the veteran regaining his old form: “I know what type of player Baron is. We know what he can bring when he’s healthy. Right now we’re just going with the guys who are healthy. … But whoever is out there, [whether it’s] Baron or Toney Douglas or Bibby, we have confidence in them and we want to get the ball in their hands.”
»Davis acknowledged he may not be the same player he used to be, but is trying to do everything he can to regain his form. And while he’d like to play more minutes he knows Woodson is looking out for his best interest when trying to find ways to slash minutes: “I think that’s fair. I’ll give coach Mike whatever I possibly can for this team. Whether it’s 30 minutes one night then 40 the next and then 20, doesn’t matter.”
Davis then added he never had his sights set on being the starting point guard for the Knicks. He fully understood his role when he signed as a free agent last winter: “That was never my concern. When I came here Mike D’Antoni said Toney [Douglas] was going to be the starting point guard and that I had to work my way up. All I was focused on was doing whatever I had to do to focus on earning the minutes I knew I was capable of playing and doing anything I could to help this team. With Jeremy then starting it actually helped my game and helped me slowly get more acclimated to the feel of the game.”
»Woodson said he’s been walking a tightrope when deciding how much work guys should put in on off days. He wants to practice but doesn’t want to risk tiring legs, so it’s been a great challenge for him and his staff to figure it out on the fly: “I was tired [after eight games in 11 nights], so I know the players were tired.But guys came back today energized and ready to play. From a coaching standpoint I’m walking a slippery slope in terms of guys being nicked up, like Tyson [Chandler]and [Carmelo Anthony]and Baron. I can’t get much out of them in practice today, so they mainly watched. Hopefully that [rest] will do them some good for tomorrow [in Indiana].”
Woodson also allowed he could go very deep into his bench to compensate for the loss of his bigs, Stoudemire (back) and Jared Jeffries (knee): “In past games against the Pacers and Magic [Thursday’s opponent] we had both Amar’e and Jared but we won't have them [tomorrow]. We’ll have to mix and match based on what we have in uniform. Maybe we’ll see more Josh [Harrellson] and maybe even some Jerome [Jordan] a little bit. ... Melo will also have to play some [power forward] as well.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.