March meltdown puts playoffs at risk for Knicks
NEW YORK (AP)
Seems like this was a case of temporary Linsanity.
The New York Knicks' fantastic February is forgotten, replaced by a March meltdown.
They are back to playing the way they were in January, before Jeremy Lin's emergence got them on track. New York has lost six in a row for the second time this season and is in danger of missing the playoffs.
Loaded with expectations, the Knicks have fallen into a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and their spirits are dropping just as quickly.
''We're kind of down right now,'' Carmelo Anthony said Monday after a 104-99 loss in Chicago.
''My job as one of the leaders of this team is to try to keep everybody up, keep everybody positive. It's a hard situation to be in right now. You're losing basketball games, the way we're losing, it's kind of hard to stay upbeat, but we don't have no choice but to do that and keep on pushing.''
Even if they regroup and make the postseason, history indicates the Knicks won't be a threat to advance. According to STATS, LLC, only one team in the past 36 years, Indiana in 2005, has won a playoff series after having two losing streaks of six games or longer during the regular season.
''We've been in this situation before, early in the season. We've come together, fought through it,'' Anthony said. ''Right now times are tough, so I'm not going to get through it by myself. Nobody is going to get through it by themselves. We need everybody.''
Problem is, they have everybody now. And the pieces don't seem to fit.
Lin's numbers have dropped from last month, Anthony's and Amare Stoudemire's are well below normal, and that trio hasn't proven it can play together. The height of Lin's success came without the two All-Stars, and the offense hasn't been as crisp since Anthony returned from a groin injury on Feb. 20, triggering a 2-8 tumble.
''There's no magic potion,'' coach Mike D'Antoni said. ''Each player has to understand the position we're in, each player has to step up and do the best he can do, and I have faith they will do that.''
The offense is hardly the only problem. The defense struggled badly at the end of a four-game road trip last week, and even when the Knicks do get stops, they don't grab the rebounds.
A comeback was thwarted Friday in Milwaukee when the Knicks couldn't corral an errant shot by Brandon Jennings as the shot clock was set to expire. The Knicks then surrendered 22 offensive boards Monday, getting outrebounded 56-38.
With plenty of scorers and D'Antoni's schemes, the Knicks know they can pile up the points. But that doesn't matter when they're getting beaten in so many other areas.
''As far as missing or making shots, that's going to happen throughout the course of a game,'' Anthony said. ''But when we're losing games by minor things - which is major things, offensive rebounds, second-chance shots - you know, that gives the other team momentum. Gives them a chance to run another play or score a basket, so just things that we need to correct.''
Anthony said perhaps he needs to take it upon himself to grab an extra rebound or loose ball. But what the Knicks really need is for him to become an elite scorer again.
His average of 21.3 points is his lowest since his second season, and his 40 percent shooting is by far his worst. Stoudemire is down nearly eight points from last season to 17.7 per game, struggling to find room in the paint when Tyson Chandler is in.
The problems go beyond the stars. J.R. Smith has been a disappointment, shooting just 37 percent in his 11 games, and Lin remains solid but no longer spectacular.
The undrafted guard from Harvard is shooting under 40 percent this month, and though D'Antoni gave a strong defense of Lin after Sunday's loss to Philadelphia, it's clear teams have figured out his game now that he is no longer unknown to many of them.
The Knicks came out of a second-half slump last season to finish 42-40, and there's still time to snap out of this funk with 24 games left. Their talent is undeniable, but so is their absence of cohesion.
Without the playoff berth that was expected, the Knicks will have to evaluate the Anthony-Stoudemire pairing, as well as D'Antoni's future with his contract set to expire.
Their difficult schedule includes two games against Orlando, two more against the Bulls, and another against the Heat, who the Knicks are a combined 0-5 against. Plus, two against the Bucks, who have won both meetings and own the tiebreaker for the eighth spot.
The players know they must stay positive, but that grows harder with each loss.
Lin saved them from their first slump. Time is running out to see if anybody is up for the challenge now.
''We're eighth place, we're in a dogfight. Should you worry about it? No, you shouldn't,'' D'Antoni said Monday. ''I think everybody understands the stakes and they have to know it's disappointing to lose one like this, but they have to know we played better and they have to know Wednesday we start to try to keep eighth place, or better.''
Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney