The Knicks have a pivotal home game Friday night and it has nothing to do with their opponent.
The putrid New Orleans Hornets are next on the docket, but the suspense surrounds the likely return of Carmelo Anthony from his groin injury. Since the emergence of Linsanity, the elephant in the room has been “What happens when Melo returns?”
Anthony, a perennial All-Star small forward, should make his return to the starting lineup — to the delight of his teammates and coaches. But the main concern from outsiders is whether Anthony’s one-on-one style will somehow hinder the free-flowing, Mike D’Antoni uptempo attack.
“There won’t be any problems,” D’Antoni insisted. “Everybody knows
what you’re supposed to do and how to act out there. Nobody will look at
stats and nobody should care about that. We have a bunch of guys that
care about winning. … He [Anthony] has seen what this winning is about.
And he’ll want that to continue.”
Point guard Jeremy Lin said he’s definitely looking forward to Anthony’s return because it’ll force teams to play him honest. Sans Anthony, opponents have been loading up on Lin, forcing him into tough shots and an alarming turnover rate. His six turnovers per game is an NBA record for most giveaways by a player in his first five starts, so adding Anthony back to the mix is a blessing, according to Lin.
“We’re both excited for when he’s coming back,” said Lin. “As a point guard my field goal attempts have been really high and I don’t think that’s necessarily good. I think it’s more my job to distribute and get people in rhythm, especially when Melo comes back. … My shots will go down and my assists will go up.”
Certainly no one within the Knicks organization would publicly state Anthony’s style will clash, but the questions still remain. Lin has made everyone better during this torrid seven-game winning streak by getting everyone involved. Lin’s unselfish play has showed he doesn’t care if it’s stars like Amar’e Stoudemire or Tyson Chandler getting open or reserves like Steve Novak and Jared Jeffries because if they’re open, they will get the rock.
But when Anthony was forced to be a pseudo point-forward position while Lin was dominating the D-League, the offense was stagnant.
D’Antoni said he’s not concerned with any chemistry issues because everyone is falling in line with their roles. He added that prior to Lin’s ascension Anthony was asked to do too much. But upon Anthony’s return he’ll look to go back to being the primary scorer and leave the doling to Lin.
When Anthony was brought over from Denver last season, one guy who went into the tank was Landry Fields. Prior to Anthony’s arrival, Fields was the feisty rookie who filled the lanes, finished plays and was the fans’ darling. He was a wing, much like Anthony, who liked to have the ball in certain spots. But when Anthony came over, he dominated the ball and made the rookie go into a shell.
Fields is just now coming out of that funk, so it’ll also be intriguing how the two mesh. D’Antoni said he’s also not worried about Anthony again cramping Fields’s style.
“We just keep working with him,” D’Antoni said of Fields. “Landry’s natural position is at the two [shooting guard]. He’s starting to come on now after coming into this season with high expectations and coming back from a bad end to last year. He lost his confidence, but we kept talking to him and got through him. And now he’s playing really well right now. … I have no worries.”
Lin said no one will “mess anything up” because everyone loves this newfound feeling of winning. He credited D’Antoni and the staff with allowing guys to find themselves during their tough stretch, which in turn helped the team finally jell.
“We’re sticking together and putting our egos aside,” Lin offered. “When we do that and buy into Coach D’Antoni’s system we’re going to win even more games. … We’re just having fun out there.”
» The Knicks are reportedly close to signing free agent swingman J.R. Smith. The former Nuggets gunner is seeking either a starting spot or the most available money. And while the Knicks can’t offer a starting shooting guard or small forward slot, they can offer the most money amongst the contending teams with their salary cap exemption, believed to be $2.5 million. The other teams reportedly involved are the Lakers and Clippers. But Smith is a New Jersey native, is reportedly fond of D’Antoni’s uptempo offense, shares the same agent (Leon Rose) as Anthony — who is also privately trying to woo Smith — and Rose actually met with Knicks owner James Dolan following Wednesday night’s win. It looks like it’s just a matter of time before Smith joins his former Nuggets teammate in the Big Apple.
» Rookie Iman Shumpert was chosen to be part of this year’s NBA Slam Dunk contest during All-Star Weekend. Shumpert will compete with Minnesota’s Derrick Williams, Houston’s Chase Budinger and Indiana’s Paul George. ESPN reported that Lin would likely be Shumpert’s assistant during the contest.
Lin was also added to this year’s Rookie-Sophomore game.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.