February Lin-sanity appeared to have tempered the vitriol and disappointment directed toward the underachieving New York Knicks. However, the ides of March have resurrected the drama and uncertainty that surrounded the franchise throughout the first month and a half of the season.
A tornado of blame and finger pointing has descended upon Madison Square Garden. In the peripherals of the Knicks drama is the growing tension surrounding D’Antoni’s management of Lin and Davis in the starting lineup. Last night was the second consecutive night Lin earned a negative plus/minus. In the last two games, Lin’s plus/minus has been -20. Baron Davis has earned a +10 plus/minus but has also contracted the turnover plague that has swept Knicks point guards.
However, the eye of the storm revolves around Carmelo Anthony. One year after being acquired for his scoring ability, Anthony is averaging his fewest points per game since his second professional season. Anthony’s return to the lineup was supposed to elevate the Knicks into the NBA’s elite. Instead, they’ve begun tumbling back down the standings.
After returning to a .500 record during Anthony’s absence, the Knicks are 2-4 with their full lineup intact. Including last night’s six-point brick fest against the Mavericks, Anthony is averaging just 16 points a game since his return on Feb. 20.
The most disconcerting factor about Carmelo’s struggles has been his ineffectiveness with Lin on the floor.
According to Tom Haberstroh of ESPN:
"Carmelo Anthony‘s PER with Jeremy Lin off court this season: 21.8. Carmelo’s PER with Lin ON court? 12.2…. Knicks’ offensive efficiency (pts per 100 trips): Lin on/Carmelo off? 105.0. Lin off/Carmelo on? 98.8. Both on? 97.9."
Against Dallas Tuesday night, the Knicks trailed 13-23 when he man Shumpert was substituted for Anthony in the first quarter. Anthony’s benching for much of the fourth quarter also coincided with the Knicks' comeback. The Knicks trailed 59-70 when Anthony was benched with 2:05 remaining in the third quarter. When Anthony returned with 3:57 remaining in regulation, the Knicks had pulled within two points. Two minutes later, the Mavericks had put the finishing touches on a 10-0 run and led 78-91.
In the final four minutes alone, Dirk Nowitzki tallied nine points and Amare scored seven points on 2-of-3 shooting while Carmelo went 0-for-1 from the field for a grand total of zero points in the fourth period. For the second night in a row, the backups led the Knicks back from a third-quarter deficit. Disappearing acts like that won’t endear him to Knicks fans.
Disappearing without speaking to the media also won’t help the increasingly negative perception New York fans have of him. After initially leaving the arena without speaking to the media, Anthony returned.
At their current rate, Amare and Carmelo are in danger of joining the pantheon of failed superstar NBA partnerships that includes the 76ers' Webber/Iverson combo, the Nuggets' Iverson/Carmelo, the Rockets' Pippen/Olajuwon and the Knicks' '70s mix of Bob McAdoo and Spencer Haywood. After initially brushing off the media last night, Anthony returned to defend his 2-of-12 shooting and his recent poor play.
“I think any time you go from the early part of the season and having the ball and distributing and now waiting for it to come to me, it’s quite an adjustment for myself,’’ Anthony told the New York Post.
However, Anthony has never been a good distributor. Scoring has been his niche since he was drafted, but he has struggled doing that as well. Anthony may be confused by the new-look Knicks but it's more likely he'll remain in blue and orange into next season regardless of the season's outcome. Mike D'Antoni can't say the same.
For four years the Knicks and D’Antoni assembled the building blocks to embark on a championship run. Unfortunately, their superstar talent hasen't gelled, is getting outplayed by their bench and their season is circling the drain. D’Antoni has had four years to find his footing in New York. D’Antoni has two months left on the clock to construct a blueprint for the 2012 Knicks or he and Anthony may be headed out the door this summer.