The NBA season is truly a roller coaster ride. Throughout the long, grueling, 82-game campaign teams go through many winning streaks and dry spells. The New York Knicks have had this type of experience throughout the first 53 games of the season.
Two short months ago the Knicks were 19-6 and sat atop the Atlantic Division with a comfortable six game lead. The Knicks’ ball movement and defense was comparable to the Red Holzman-era Knicks. Knicks’ head coach Mike Woodson deserved a lot of the credit. He seemed to be pushing all the right buttons, and veterans such as Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace were playing at an extremely high level. Guys at the bottom of the depth chart such as James White and Chris Copeland were even contributing valuable minutes.
The Knicks have played mediocre basketball since that point. They are 14-14 and have seen their comfortable division lead crumble to one game. They have had some disappointing losses during that period, but none more disappointing than a 125-91 loss to the Pacers. This loss was a perfect example of what has been going wrong of late. The Knicks were 5-28 from distance and surrendered 74 first half points to a team that averages 92 points per game. Just as Mike Woodson received credit for the hot start he must also take the blame for this poor stretch of play.
Mike Woodson is considered by many to be a defensive expert. However, the Knicks defense has been soft. During this span of games, opposing guards have trashed the Knicks on a nightly basis, coming into the Garden and making a mockery of the Knicks’ interior and perimeter defense. They have looked lost on defensive rotations and are switching too often. In addition, younger guards have had no problem getting past Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton, and Woodson hasn’t made many adjustments to remedy the problem. He has shown a reluctance to turn to Kurt Thomas, James White, or Chris Copeland.
Another major problem plaguing the Knicks during the span has been their propensity to lose their cool against physical teams. Many times the Knicks have let games get away from them when the calls haven’t necessarily gone their way. This duty to keep the team focused falls on the coach. However, Mike Woodson has also lost his cool and has gotten himself ejected, which have made many people around the league question if the Knicks have the mental toughness to handle the physicality of a seven game playoff series. Nothing throughout the year has shown that the Knicks can keep their composure in tough situations.
There have been factors such as health that Mike Woodson can’t control. Many key players have missed significant amount of time due to injury. In fact, Tuesday was the first time Mike Woodson had all fifteen players suited up for practice. However, one can’t forget that Woodson wanted a veteran team, being instrumental in bringing Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, and Rasheed Wallace to the team. Many of their injuries should come as no surprise to Woodson considering the amount of time these players have spent in the league.
The Knicks are still first in the Atlantic and second in the conference, but Mike Woodson will not be judged on regular season success. Anything less than a conference finals appearance could have fans and executives questioning if Woodson is right for the job. After a recent loss to the Pacers he said “They whipped our (expletive) from beginning to end. It was nothing pretty about tonight’s game. It’s unacceptable. I mean, we didn’t compete. That’s on all of us.” If the Knicks continue to not compete Mike Woodson might find himself jobless next season.