1. Top Priority: Knicks Looking To Unseat Heat
NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks punctuated their five-game homestand Monday with a fifth straight win, trouncing the Detroit Pistons, 99-85. The outlook couldn't look much brighter for the Knicks as they round the midway point of the season and begin the home stretch to the playoffs.
Amar'e Stoudemire is healthy, on the court, and contributing in a big way. Raymond Felton has returned and is once again providing the dribble penetration the Knicks sorely missed during his prolonged absence due to a hand injury. Aside from Rasheed Wallace, who would only play spot minutes with Stoudemire back, the Knicks are whole.
Their sundry scoring options overwhelmed a Detroit team trying to integrate new starting point guard Jose Calderon, who had not practiced with the team before making his debut Monday night. In addition to the novelty of playing with Calderon, the Pistons could have been feeling the effects of losing Tayshaun Prince, formerly the Pistons' longest-tenured player, in the same trade.
Detroit point guard Will Bynum confessed they did not plan to shut down New York's potent offense. "With a team like that, you have to be willing to give up something," said Bynum.
The Knicks, led by 27 breezy points from Carmelo Anthony, were happy to take what the Pistons were offering.
"Tonight we let the guys who want to beat us, beat us," said Bynum, "and that's Melo."
New York sprinted to a 20-6 advantage in the first seven minutes and led 58-36 after the first half. It wasn't a particularly fast-paced half, the Knicks just seemed to score every time down the court. From an efficiency standpoint, the second quarter was about as perfect as any team can play. In that period, New York did not take a single two-point shot outside of the paint. Everything was at the rim -- where fouls and easy lay-ins occur -- or out at the 3-point line, where the Knicks are the league's second-most accurate team.
New York used its spread pick-and-roll attack to pull the Pistons' defense apart, drilling 10 first-half 3-pointers off their crisp ball movement. When the Knicks' offense is really clicking, players don't appear to be improvising, though of course they are. Rather it's as though they are reciting a script that calls for open shot after open shot.
Coach Mike Woodson has said he hopes to catch the Miami Heat, which lead the Knicks in the Eastern Conference by just half a game, by the All-Star break. Whether or not they reach that particular deadline, New York will certainly have a shot at finishing the season with the East's best record if they can stay healthy.
Though it can't be exactly what the Knicks envisioned when they brought Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Stoudemire together in 2011, they must be happy with how it looks now that each member of the NBA's most expensive frontcourt is playing. The Knicks would be thrilled were Monday's performance to become the new normal.
In addition to Anthony's scintillating scoring, Chandler became the first Knick since Willis Reed in 1969-70 to record 20 rebounds in three straight games. Perhaps he was inspired by a sitdown with Mike Woodson a few games ago to address Chandler "taking plays off."
Stoudemire, for his part, had another strong showing with 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting -- his 10th straight game shooting at least 50 percent from the field. He's scoring as efficiently as ever, but it's now as a supersub. No longer the offense's primary focal point, Stoudemire adds depth without forcing the rest of his team to adjust much to his presence. He gives J.R. Smith and the Knicks' bench unit a boost, and has proven a reliable low-post scorer, especially from the left block.
Though Stoudemire made his name in the NBA as a hyper-athletic dunker, these days he relies more on his quick footwork and soft touch.
"Amar'e's a different player," said Woodson. "He's not that one-dimensional guy that's a pick-and-roll guy or a pick-and-pop guy."
Woodson said Stoudemire has transformed into "another guy we can put on the low post who can draw double teams and kick it out to guys who can make shots."
As the Pistons were reminded, the Knicks have a lot of guys who can make those shots.
With a healthy lineup, New York now has the depth, at least on offense, that is so vital for regular-season success.
Is the East's top seed a realistic goal? Things will get tougher as New York closes the season with 21 of 36 games on the road, and the Knicks have shot a signifcantly worse percentage from the field and the 3-point line away from home.
And the Knicks still occasionally find themselves at loose ends on defense. It was clear that the Pistons wanted to target Stoudemire in the second half, and did so successfully with Greg Monroe in isolations or high pick-and-rolls. Whether New York's strategy on that end, which Pistons coach Lawrence Frank referred to as "random switching," can survive a tough postseason series remains unclear.
So if they do surpass Miami, it will likely be because the offense continues its whirring efficiency. Anthony's simple postgame analysis might well sum it up:
"We have so many threats. When we score like that it is hard for teams to stop us."
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Martell Webster. Webster shot 5-for-6 from three and even added five rebounds and three assists. Getting 21 points on only 10 shots is pretty darn good.
Well that was ... clumsy: L.A. gave the ball up 20 times, helping the Wizards to 24 points off turnovers. The Clippers looked like a team on the second night of a back-to-back and the Wiz took advantage.
Defining moment: The Wizards broke out on a sloppy fast break, but three Clippers failed to streak down the court with them. Trevor Ariza ended up hitting two free throws, increasing the Wizards' lead to six.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Spencer Hawes, like most jump shooting centers who don't shoot jump shots well, doesn't often get singed out for praise. No more. Hawes attacked the basket with extreme prejudice throughout and scored 21 to go with a season-high 14 rebounds. You did good, Spence.
X factor: There's more than one way to score 61 points in a professional basketball game, but here's how Orlando managed it: they shot 27-of-80, didn't break 20 points in a single quarter, and avoided the rim like it had a communicable disease. Did I mention they've lost ten straight? The Magic have lost ten straight.
That was ... pyrrhic: While Philadelphia has now won three in a row and four of five, tonight it came at a cost. The cost: Thaddeus Young. The sparkplug collapsed while lunging for a steal mid-second quarter, clutching his left hamstring, and didn't return. It's been a long season for the Sixers. It might get longer still.
Recap | Box score
MVP: David West was an absolute beast tonight, adding 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 crucial blocks to his 29 points. The Pacers were +23 with West on the floor, as Indy caught the Bulls for the Central Division lead.
X factor: Coming into the game, it was either going to be Jimmy Butler or Lance Stephenson. While Butler struggled to make an impact, Stephenson stuffed the box score with 15 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists.
That was ... not according to the script. The Pacers and the Bulls are two of the top three defenses in the league, but this game was full of offensive fireworks. Its 111 points was Indiana's high in regulation this season.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Carmelo Anthony. The 'Bocker battering ram feasted on a slew of mismatches to the tune of 27 on 17 shots, seven boards and three dimes, continuing his magnificent first-half play and starting another 20-point game streak anew.
X factor: Three-point shooting. In what's become a dog-eared page in New York's unlikely playbook, the Knicks connected on 14 of 34 (including three from Melo and five from J.R. Smith) from distance, while holding Detroit to just 3 of 13.
That was ... another record in jeopardy: In a season punctuated by felled marks, Tyson Chandler's third consecutive game with 20 or more rebounds tied Willis Reed's 1970 mark. Still, it's safe to say there's only one thing those halcyon Bockers had that these Knicks truly want.
Recap | Box score
MVP: LeBron James. James finished with 31-8-8 on 13 of 14 shooting. That's not a typo: The star forward's only miss came on a simple fast-break layup. Still, the Heat couldn't separate themselves from the Bobcats until the end: Safe to say Miami needed LeBron tonight.
That was ... tenacious: With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out after a scary head injury on Saturday, the Bobcats brought fierce tenacity, solid offensive execution, and defensive competence, staying in the game to the end. Talent won out, but Charlotte's effort bears mention.
Defining moment: Early in the fourth, the Bobcats were up 72-69 when Miami made a 14-2 run to lead by 9. Then Charlotte returned fire with an 11-4 run of its own to bring the deficit back to 2, but never got any closer.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Russell Westbrook finished with a game-high 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field. He added seven assists, three rebounds and three steals. Westbrook was efficient as he did it all in just under 30 minutes of work.
X factor: Oklahoma City created their separation by forcing turnovers and turning the game into a track meet. The Mavericks were unable to recover from the attack by the Thunder. Dallas had a total of 14 turnovers for 23 Oklahoma City points.
That was ... a bounce-back win. Oklahoma City was likely in a foul mood after suffering a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in their last game. They're now 11-1 in games after suffering a loss. The train keeps rolling for the dominant Thunder squad.
3. Monday's Best
LeBron James, Heat: The winner of this prestigious honor on Sunday, James topped himself on Monday, going 13-for-14 from the field for a career-best 93-percent shooting night in a 99-93 win over the Bobcats. Check out how he ruled.
4. Monday's Worst
The bruised and battered Magic: With six players sidelined, the Magic didn't stand much of a chance, slouching to a 10th straight loss -- a 78-61 downing by the Sixers. Orlando is now on the board as the lone team with multiple double-digit losing streaks this season.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"It's mental. When I step up to the line in games, and I think so much about missing because everybody saying I can't shoot free throws. And it's just going up there and shooting it. When I do have those games when I go up there and shoot it, they're good. So my thing -- it's all mental. In high school I was 90 percent from the line."
-- Lakers center Dwight Howard, telling Stephen A. Smith about his free-throw shooting woes, among other things.
8. Where King Reigns
9. Stat Check
Kevin Durant scored 19 points in the Thunder's win against the Mavericks. That ended his streak of 12 straight games with at least 20 points versus Dallas. It was the longest run of 20-point games against Mark Cuban's club since Zach Randolph had a dozen in a row from 2006 to 2010.See more from Elias
10. Dunk Of The Night
MVP: LaMarcus Aldridge. Missed clutch free throws aside, Aldridge was spectacular in this game. He had 25 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists. The Portland All-Star played tremendous defense and was unstoppable from midrange.
X factor: For some reason, Wesley Matthews loves playing the Timberwolves. He was 7-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-8 from downtown. It didn't matter how Minnesota guarded Matthews, he just kept draining 3's.
That was ... thrilling: The last time these two played, the Blazers led by as many as 21 before a furious comeback by Minnesota fell just short. It was the same song, different verse tonight, as the Wolves went on a 22-6 run to bring the game within one point. Alas, once again, Minnesota couldn't get over the hump.
MVP: Jason Thompson. It was for a losing effort, but JT played better than anyone else on the court in Salt Lake City. The forward stepped up with some energetic play that led to 23 points and 10 rebounds. He also had a furious putback dunk that helped cap a 9-0 Kings run to close the first half.
That was ... so Boogie. DeMarcus Cousins quickly ruined the feel-good vibes of Sacramento's 9-0 run at the end of the first half. The cantankerous center had already picked up one technical complaining, and after the halftime buzzer sounded, Cousins complained some more and was quickly ejected. He now has 12 technical fouls on the season.
X factor: 3-pointers. The Jazz had a very sloppy 23 turnovers in this game to Sacramento's 13. Luckily, Utah's 3-point shooting evened up the affair. Their 7-of-12 (58 percent) shooting from downtown contrasted nicely to the Kings' woeful 3-for-20 (15 percent) effort.