The Knicks have gone from Linsanity to Woodsanity, but lost in the euphoria of their current three-game winning streak is how quickly the players have gone from on-court indifference to newfound passion.
Backers of former head coach Mike D’Antoni will say that’s an indictment on a team that quit on their coach, while detractors will point to interim head coach Mike Woodson’s emphasis on defense.
“I think sometimes when change happens it forces everyone to come together as a group,” Carmelo Anthony said when asked about the drastic change in the team’s energy. “We really locked in and stuck together. That’s what we did when that happened with D’Antoni. I think everyone stuck together and just played basketball.”
When pressed further to explain the sudden change, Anthony sounded as if he didn’t want to throw D’Antoni completely under the bus, rather explaining the team’s newfound fervor to a weight being lifted off the team’s collective shoulders.
“Everybody is relaxed now and calmed down [because] the last week or so everybody was stressful. It weighed on everybody,” Anthony said. “But the last couple of games we’ve come together as a team. Guys have stepped up and made sacrifices to win games. … And we’re locked in on the defensive end.”
Anthony made it a point to explain that he’s fully bought into Woodson’s aggressive defensive style — something he rarely did for D’Antoni. The All-Star forward had customarily played defense as if he’s allergic to it, but during this win streak he’s taken a liking to defense.
“These last three games my focus has been to have [more] energy than I hadn’t had so far this season, especially on defense. Everybody in the world knows I can score the basketball, so that’s not that important to me,” Anthony said. “But as far as the defensive end I wanted to show my teammates that the effort is there and I can give that extra effort on the defensive end. And everyone will feed off that.”
Woodson was initially brought in last summer to help a deplorable Knicks defense. He’s managed to make them respectable, in large part due to the signing of center Tyson Chandler, who’s anchored his aggressive scheme. Woodson said he doesn’t want to sound as if he’s stepping on the toes of the former regime but allowed that defense will be first and foremost, while for the most part leaving the potent offense alone.
Besides, Woodson said, he barely has any time to tinker with D’Antoni’s offense so for the time being he’ll leave well enough alone, adding his own wrinkles here and there. But when asked if he had anything specifically planned for Anthony in hopes of lifting him out of his offensive funk, Woodson sounded almost defiant.
“I’m not concerned with Melo getting a whole bunch of shots. There’s enough shots for our team and enough good players that can make a difference,” said Woodson. “I’m not taking anything away from Melo. We’re still doing some of the things that Mike D’Antoni put in here. I’d be crazy to change everything right now [because] there’s not enough time in the day to change everything. … But I like [when] the opposing team doesn’t know where it’s going to come from.”
Ultimately, Woodson said, it’s about his specialty and he can only hope that guys continue to buy into his scheme.
“My main concern is defense and rebounding. We’ll figure it out offensively as we go along,” Woodson said.
»Woodson sounded like he took offense to a question about the offense’s alleged slowed-down pace. He insisted that the Knicks can and will score in bunches, so long as they put in the work on defense first: “It’s not less spread. We’re still running the pick-and-rolls [and] still shooting the 3s. I’ve still got some of Mike’s sets, but we have [shrunk] some things a bit. I don’t have a percentage on [the amount of change in offense], but I will say these last three games our offense has been as efficient as before. And we have a big point differential, which is good.”
»Point guard Jeremy Lin contradicted Woodson’s assertion, however, saying the offense doesn’t seem as quick as D’Antoni’s: “It’s not that different in terms of playing open ball, but maybe out of timeouts we’ll go a slower pace [with] halfcourt sets, but we’ll mix and match depending on the game. … It’s challenging, but in terms of what we’re running it’s not like I never saw this offense before. I saw it in college and high school. Obviously it’s not on the same level as here, but I’m familiar with it. … But basically [Woodson’s offense] means there’s less spacing.”
»According to Woodson, the key to the sudden spike in performance has been that all the players have bought in — something that allegedly wasn’t happening behind the scenes during D’Antoni’s reign: “Everyone is starting to buy in. And that’s what winning does. That’s the beauty of 14-15 guys making a commitment. … I just think we’re playing for something again and the energy level has really gone up. We needed that because we were sinking a little bit. It’s been a total team effort on our part and they’re making sure everyone understands our defense assignments. Our offense has even picked up because we’re generating offense through our defense.”
»Anthony acknowledged that Woodson has kept his promise to make everyone accountable, regardless of status. More than once, according to Anthony, the new coach has ripped into him during film study: “That’s fine. We all need that. I know when I’m messing up he’ll tell me [immediately]. When he got the job I told him to hold me accountable and when I’m doing something that he doesn’t like, just tell me. Regardless, I told him I never cower to criticism. If I can do something to help better this team, let me know. There have been times in film session when he’s been all over me, but I accept that as one of the leaders of the team.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.