While power forward Amar'e Stoudemire rested on the bench nursing a back injury, Carmelo Anthony delivered his finest offensive performance in two months by scoring 28 points in an 89-80 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Pardon the pun, Amar'e, but last night's victory was also significant because it returned the New York Knicks record "back" to .500. However, the road only gets more difficult from here. Their upcoming slate of games will show how far they’ve progressed as a team under Woodson. Six out of seven of those games will come against playoff teams, including Orlando and Chicago twice.
Jeremy Lin-sanity may have sparked a surge in attendance at Madison Square Garden and at psychiatric hospitals across the five boroughs, but if the Knicks are going to make noise in the playoffs, Anthony and Stoudemire have to figure out how to play like All-Stars in the lineup together. Only eight times this season, Stoudemire and Anthony have both scored 20 points. In comparison, Oklahoma City’s scoring duo of Westbrook and Durant have both scored 20 or more in 30 games this season. Miami’s Wade and Lebron have accomplished the feat 18 times.
Mike Woodson said he would rely more heavily on his two stars, but is it possible? Instead of playing off each other as the Miami Sith Lords' or the Oklahoma City Skywalkers' superstars have done, Stoudemire and Carmelo parallel a a pair of star-crossed superstars who can’t make it click offensively at the same time. At times, you've got to wonder if they're the NBA's Tyler Durden and have been the same person all this time, because when one disappears the other shows out. Nearly every night, even in wins, the other is an illusion.
Stoudemire is averaging just 17 point per game but had experienced a recent resurgence under Woodson. Conversely, before Monday night’s 28-point explosion against the Bucks, Anthony had regressed offensively.
Anthony may have been more energized on the defensive end since D’Antoni’s hiring but his shooting numbers were terrible. There was a time when 28 points wasn’t considered an explosion for Anthony but rather his nightly production.
In Atlanta, Woodson’s teams were balanced scoring units. In his final season coaching the Hawks, six players averaged double-digit scoring. However, those teams didn’t have two perennial All-Stars making $20 million each per season. Unfortunately, the Knicks may also begin the gauntlet portion of their schedule without Stoudemire.
It was almost two years ago that Amar'e Stoudemire stood in front of the cameras and announced to the world, "The Knicks are back." Instead he inadvertently foreshadowed the pain that would later plague him in a Knicks uniform. While Stoudemire’s knees were the big concern when he signed his $100 million contract, his back has been the culprit in Stoudemire’s stretch-run disappearances recently.
Yesterday, the Knicks shelved Stoudemire "temporarily" after his sore back was revealed to be the result of a bulging disk in his back. Although he is listed as day-to-day, this is the second significant back injury he has suffered as a Knick.
Stoudemire also attempted to play through a lingering back injury during last season’s playoff series against the Celtics. After an ineffective performance and a first-round sweep, off-season surgery left him unable to play five-on-five for almost five months. In the Celtics series, Anthony played fantastic by averaging 26 points per game. He scored 42 points when Stoudemire played just 18 minutes and scored four points in Game 2.
For one reason or another the Knicks two superstars cannot seem to stay on the floor together and even if the Knicks wanted to trade one of the two in the off-season, it wouldn’t be a viable option anymore after this year. Their value has dropped so precipitously that their aren't many teams that would take either with their current contracts and offer something of value in return. When asked before Monday night’s game against the Bucks if Stoudemire would be available before the playoffs, Woodson said he did not know.
Chicago has provided the blueprint on how to keep winning with a sidelined NBA MVP and have won 11 of the 16 games Rose has missed with backups who have stepped up in the absence. However, the points scored aren’t as much of a concern with the Bulls. It’s the points allowed. They are the NBA’s second-best defense in terms of points allowed, surrendering just 89 points per game. The Knicks allow 97.1 this season but have only given up an average of 86 points since Woodson took over.
Their impenetrable defense has propelled them forward in Rose’s absence. Stoudemire is still considered a defensive liability at his position and while he’s out the new Knicks shouldn’t concentrate so much on replacing his offensive production because of their bench depth but instead focus on improving defensively in his absence.