When the Knicks hosted the Orlando Magic on Monday in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. matinee, they were trudging through the condensed NBA schedule with mediocre results. A 102-93 loss to the Magic, the Knicks’ third in a row, put them at 6-7.
Not the mark of a team whose aspiration entering the season was to be an NBA title contender.
Even in this compressed 66-game regular season, in which the Knicks will play four games in six days between Monday and Saturday, including tomorrow’s (Friday) meeting with the Milwaukee Bucks at the Garden followed by the Denver Nuggets at MSG 24 hours later, it’s still relatively early. But soon, it won’t be early anymore.
If the Knicks continue to play at or below .500 for much longer, urgency will be in order. Their strengths and weaknesses are evident.
First the latter: They are limited in the backcourt. No one knows what Baron Davis will be when he returns. Will the herniated disk in his back be a hindrance all season? Mike Bibby has been a non-factor. Toney Douglas and Landry Fields are struggling with their roles. Rookie Iman Shumpert will someday be very good. Today, he is an inconsistent, wild colt learning the nuances of professional basketball.
The strengths are Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler: Anthony offensively-he began the week fourth in the league in scoring at 25.5 points per game-and Chandler providing an invaluable all-around contribution. They have had to shoulder the burden of keeping the Knicks from reaching a crisis until the third member of the Big Three, Amar’e Stoudemire, begins to resemble the player who lifted the franchise back into relevancy last season.
A year ago, Stoudemire was a league MVP candidate. Admittedly, he has been anything but this season. His numbers are hovering around 18 points and eight rebounds per game-solid, but less than what is expected from a player of Stoudemire’s stature.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” said Stoudemire in the Knicks’ locker room on Monday. “It takes a little time, but I’m staying…focused, staying confident…even though I’m having a little bit of a bad stretch…I worked extremely hard this summer, hard as I’ve ever worked before. I have confidence that the hard work will pay off.”
It better or else visions of a championship run will be a pipe dream.