After yet another meeting to try to correct the team’s attitude, the New York Knicks showed signs of serious promise against the Denver Nuggets but ultimately dropped their eighth in a row in a close road game.
For most of the game (particularly in the second and fourth quarters), the Knicks actually managed to play competent halfcourt defense. Iman Shumpert strung together a handful of solid possessions on that end, and Andrea Bargnani had one of his better defensive outings of the season. Still, there were a few glaring issues. The Knicks’ transition defense was an absolute mess. When Denver decided to actually make use of their speed advantage they were able to get easy runs to the rim whenever they wanted, even off of a few of the Knicks’ made baskets. They also got caught ball-watching fairly often, leaving their men open for easy three-point attempts (luckily, the Nuggets are not a good three-point shooting team). While the Knicks did a good job limiting the opportunities for the Nuggets’ big men, Nate Robinson and Ty Lawson were able to get wherever they wanted when they chose to attack off of screens.
Offensively, the Knicks managed spurts of smooth ball movement, but they weren’t really able to sustain it for anywhere near the entire game. There were stretches where their ball movement wasn’t accompanied by the appropriate amount of player movement resulting in a series of low-impact passes along the perimeter. The offense was at its best when Raymond Felton was attacking the paint in the pick-and-roll (this is partly because the Nuggets’ interior defense is lackluster) and finding Bargnani for easy buckets. The offense stalled a bit during the few minutes Pablo Prigioni played. At this point in his career he’s better suited to playing shooting guard where he can move the ball around with quick-hitting passes rather than handling the ball full-time. He’s not a threat to drive into the paint very often, and he’s susceptible to ball pressure from quicker guards.
The Knicks’ three-point shooting woes also continued. They hit just one of their 11 attempts from deep in the first half and finished the night having made just 27.3 percent of their shots from long range. On the bright side, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert both looked more comfortable and confident taking jump shots, which bodes well for their upcoming games.
The Knicks managed to hang close for almost the entire game before Melo left Wilson Chandler and Randy Foye wide open (he got caught ball-watching) for two big threes that seemed to break the game open. The Knicks showed their resolve, though, and they were able to cut the lead back down. The Nuggets seemed to have it wrapped up late when the Knicks were forced to foul, but on a play were Ill Will simply had to catch the ball and get fouled, he committed a silly offensive foul, giving the Knicks the ball down by just three. After an incredibly bizarre play with half a dozen deflections, Shump got a layup to cut the lead to one. When Ty Lawson split his two free throws, New York had 15 seconds on the clock, down by two, with a chance to tie or win, but they were done in by a bad attempt at hero ball. Melo ate up all 15 seconds dribbling slowly, only to have his turnaround jumper blocked by the much smaller Foye, of all people. The Denver crowd had booed Melo all game and they surely found some special satisfaction in the way this one ended.
Denver may not be an elite team but they’re tough to beat on the road, and New York’s defensive performance was pretty encouraging. Their schedule’s going to get easier in the next few weeks, and if guys like J.R. Smith, Shump and Hardaway Jr. can continue to build their confidence, they could snap their losing streak soon.