Although his last name begins with it, and he’s never coached a team in his career which has either (D)emonstrated it nor been committe(D) to it, New York Knicks’ hea(D) coach Mike D’Antoni this offseason and preseason, preache(D) a renewe(D) belief for his team in a single letter: a ‘D’ — as in (D)efense.
However, talking about (D)efense and actually playing it effectively are two vastly (D)ifferent things in basketball, and especially in the NBA.
The Knicks opened their 2008-2009 season the same way they have for much of the past several years, which have all resulted in missing the playoffs: lacking the same qualities of effort, hustle, energy, and heart at the defensive end of the floor that the previous, successful Knick eras of the 1990’s possessed game in and game out.
Despite D’Antoni’s insistence on the Knicks getting back to playing sound defense this season, New York began the season with a (D)emoralizing 115-93 loss on Wednesday night in Miami, unable to stop the Heat, whose team nickname was synonymous with the way Miami shot the ball against the Knicks’ feeble defense.
Although the Knicks had three 20-point scorers (forwards David Lee and Danilo Gallinari each scored 22 points and guard Wilson Chandler had 21 points), it meant little since that output was canceled out and then some, by allowing three Miami players to each score over 20 points (guard Dwayne Wade led all scorers with 26 points, center Jermaine O’Neal poured in 22 points, and second-year forward Michael Beasley added 21 points).
New York allowed Miami to break open a close game, letting the Heat make 26 of 31 shots from the field over a 20-minute stretch spanning the second and third quarters. Miami shot 14 of 17 from the floor in the second quarter, and made 14 of 21 field goal attempts in the third period. The Knicks were blown away in that quarter, outscored 34-15, to trail 90-62 going into the fourth quarter. For the game, New York allowed Miami to shoot a sizzling 56.6 percent (47 of 83) from the field, including 46.7 percent (7 of 15) from three-point range.
The Knicks still have 81 regular season games to try to figure things out this season, as they hopefully await a major roster overhaul via the free agent bonanza in the season to follow. However, even if the Knicks do severely change their team via free agency next season, the seeds of their team identity need to be planted this season among any complimentary pieces which would remain after this year. A return to a culture of defense first and toughness must be established now, even before any top free agents are brought in next year, if such players can even be successfully lured to New York.
The first game of this season was a good opportunity for the Knicks and D’Antoni to show that if not the talent, at least the philosophy would be different this year. And, maybe it will be, as the season progresses. However, the early initial read is that nothing has changed.
One game in, the Knicks look like the exact same team that will simply try to outscore teams, following the way D’Antoni coached in Phoenix, before coming to New York. And, if the shots don’t fall (as they didn’t in Miami on Wednesday night, with the Knicks making just 33 of 87 field goal attempts, for only 37.9 percent), the Knicks won’t play with nearly enough defensive intensity to stay in those types of games.
Perhaps it’s not what D’Antoni’s players need to hear, but instead, something the Knicks’ coach should let his team see to make them improve as a team. Maybe, showing this current group of Knicks some old video of the way former Knicks like Charles Oakley, John Starks, Patrick Ewing, Anthony Mason, or Xavier McDaniel played defensive playoff basketball would serve as the inspiration and education that D’Antoni’s Knicks sorely need.
D’ Antoni can talk about defense all he wants, but until the Knicks actually back up their coach’s words on the court, resembling anything close to the way the Knicks of the 1990’s played defense, the dismal trends of the Knicks allowing opponents to score at will and thus missing the NBA playoffs season after season, will both continue.