The Knicks are out to put the sad-sack Cleveland Cavaliers back in their place Friday night.
The crash and burn a 115-109 loss in Cleveland in the second game following the resurrection of the new-era Knicks is still fresh in their minds. Not only would a win heal the team’s wounded psyche, having lost both matchups to that woeful Cavs this season, but it would finally break the win-loss, win-loss seesaw they’ve been on since acquiring and Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony. Billups, though, will likely miss his second straight game with an injured quad. Toney Douglas, who scored a team-high 24 points in Wednesday’s win over New Orleans, will get the start.
“[Friday] is a payback game,” said Anthony, who is averaging 27 points in blue and orange. “For us to go out and lose that game ... it left a bitter taste in my mouth.”
The Knicks went through a rigorous workout yesterday, not just physically but mentally as well, as guys were still trying to get accustomed to one another. Billups didn’t workout, while Amar’e Stoudemire and Ronny Fields also didn’t practice as they were allowed a ‘rest and recovery day’.
Anthony said yesterday’s workout was needed – especially since this new-look roster won’t have many more practice sessions this month because they’ll play 18 games this month.
“I’m just trying to figure out the spots and where everybody is on the floor at different times. [Yesterday] was more of a talk walk-through and getting acclimated with each other,” said Anthony, adding that once they all get settled into their roles they’re going to be a problem in the playoffs. “We have athletic guys, so it’s about spacing because it’s hard to double-team guys in this offense…we match up well with teams. We’ll see when we get there.”
Head coach Mike D’Antoni said while he isn’t circling the calendar specifically for the Cavs, it is a big game because they’re just the next team in the way en route to their goal of finally reaching the playoffs.
“I don’t think it’s personal. We’re just trying to get to the playoffs,” said D’Antoni. “Cleveland is Cleveland. I just think we want to keep going with what we’ve got and it’s an important game for us.”
The game is also important in building a connection on the floor. The Knicks are in that rare position where they must do all this in actual games. But this is what the good teams do and in the Knicks’ eyes they consider themselves to be one of the good ones.
“We’ve always had expectations,” D’Antoni said of the rising hope, adding that gelling on the fly is what it is and something they just have to do. “Knowing that it’s awful late to put a team together, knowing that certain things have to click, knowing that we’re still not finished rebuilding this team…but I think if you ask Amar’e, Carmelo, and Chauncey they think they’re as good as anybody in the league. So, that’s where the expectations are. Not just making the playoffs but to be really good in the playoffs.”
Before the Knicks can prepare for the playoffs and be that proverbial team no one wants to play, they still have to figure out the balance on execution on both ends of the floor.
D’Antoni offered that it is a work in progress and that it’s up to everyone – but specifically the big trio -- to figure out the best way to incorporate all the styles.
“We’ll meet halfway in between because you don’t want to lose what Melo does best. A lot of it is one-on-one and he’s the best in the league at it. We’re trying to figure out what they’re comfortable with,” said D’Antoni. “Once you get into a game and you haven’t had a lot of practice time, your mind goes back to what you do. We’ll all make adjustments and sacrifices and whatever it takes to be successful we’ll do.”
Despite his offense being predicated on ball movement and crisp passes, D’Antoni said there will be times when they just hand the ball to their best one-on-one player and get out of his way.
“Now at the end of the shotclock we might give the ball to him and say, ‘Alright Melo, this is you,’” D’Antoni laughed. “But at least we have that one guy – two guys now – that when things come to a stop they can [create].”
Anthony is in that tough position where as a new guy, he’s trying to blend into the structure but also as a superstar tying to find out when it’s ok to take over a game. He said he’s learning on the fly like everyone else but added it’s a nice problem to have. The former Denver Nugget then said having such a free-flowing offense certainly helps his adaptation period and will add years to his career.
“Sometimes I pick my spots, like when I have a little guy on me in the post. But it’s better for me to keep the ball moving in this offense, running, coming off screens,” Anthony said with a smile. “I didn’t have that in Denver. I did seven years of bullying there in Denver. My body can’t take it no more. It’s easier for me now to come off screens and run pick-and-rolls. It takes a lot [of wear and tear] off my body.”
Shawne Williams agreed with Melo’s assertion that the offense is player-friendly and said having more than one superstar on the team is reserve-friendly, too.
“It’s not hard [being a role player]. You don’t get a lot of looks but the only thing you have to do is make them and open the court a little more for Melo and Amar’e. Basically it’s just spotting up and not trying to do too much,” he said, adding that Billups has constantly been in his ear with advice. “Some days I have to be more aggressive like Chauncey tells me…it’s just a sigh of relief that we have three guys who can explode on any given night. It makes it easier on us younger guys and the newer guys.”
The most famous of the new guys said that the reserves make it just as easy on the stars as vice-versa and added he’s confident the ultimate goal will be reached together – in due time.
“I think New York Knicks fans understand what we’re doing. It’s one step at a time,” said Anthony. “The goal is the championship, so in the playoffs anything can happen. We’re trying to hit our stride.”