The day began with a 90-minute film session, a painful review of every misstep in a 118-110 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, a stinging visual rebuke of another indifferent effort.
“A long, long film session for six games into the season,” said Thursday, chuckling. “But I think it was something we needed.”
Poor defense doomed the Knicks on Wednesday, as it did two nights earlier and twice last week, producing a 2-4 record that would unnerve even the most stubborn optimist.
The Knicks’ offense has dipped and waned and struggled through inconsistency, with key players shuttling in and out because of injury. But it is their defense that is triggering alarms and mild panic at Madison Square Garden, and shaking the floorboards under Coach .
Last summer, the front office pushed for the appointment of , to sharpen the team’s focus. Last month, the Knicks acquired a defensive-minded 7-footer, Tyson Chandler, to anchor their schemes.
But they have yet to locate a defensive conscience. 25th in defensive efficiency, allowing 107.1 points per 100 possessions. They are 27th in opponents’ field-goal percentage (.471) and 29th in opponents’ 3-point percentage (.425).
It is early. The sample sizes are small. The Knicks’ time together has been limited because of injuries, a short training camp and rapid roster turnover. Yet the warning signs are clear, and the pressure is increasing daily.
Knicks officials and fans expect great things this season, because of Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire’s firepower, Chandler’s defense and Iman Shumpert’s promise. But the results so far more resemble the malaise of the past decade.
When the boos rained down at the Garden on Wednesday night, it was as much about the effort as the result — and perhaps, too, about a lingering skepticism about this group.
Anthony and Stoudemire have been known throughout their careers as mediocre or indifferent defenders. D’Antoni has a reputation for stressing offense at the expense of defense (thus the team’s insistence on hiring Woodson). For the Knicks to contend — or even to win consistently — they will have to disprove every sweeping generalization about their makeup, from their highly paid stars to their highly paid head coach, who is in the last year of his contract.
This is where the Knicks become demonstrably defensive.
“I’m not too concerned about what people are saying about this team,” Anthony said. “We hear stuff every day. I hear stuff every day. We’ll get better. That’s the only thing I can say about that. We’ll get better.”
Anthony also said, “We will become a good defensive team.” When asked how he can be so confident, he asserted: “Because I know the guys. I know the guys want to do it. I’ve seen us do it in the preseason, in training camp. I’ve seen us do it in some games that we’ve played so far.”
He was referring mostly to the Knicks’ and their Kings, along with a solid quarter here and there. The unraveling against the Bobcats, however, left the most striking impression.
Boris Diaw, despite looking terribly out of shape, consistently found room for open jumpers, and at least twice blew by Stoudemire for layups. Stoudemire insisted that his sprained ankle was not a factor, which means that he either failed to react or was counting on someone else covering for him.
Throughout the locker room, the talk was of communication, trust and coordination on defense, or the lack thereof. This is not about schemes or philosophy, but about establishing an approach and adhering to it.
This is where the short preseason hurts the Knicks most. Star players like Anthony or Stoudemire can manufacture offense through sheer skill, even while breaking or ignoring offensive principles. But there are no solo acts on defense, where freelancing nearly always ends in disaster. Great defense requires trust and coordination, which takes time, especially with eight new players and two rookies in the rotation.
D’Antoni said the schemes simply broke down against Charlotte — “a lot of pressure, busted pipes” — with mistakes made by everyone, rookies and veterans alike.
The Knicks lost three key players to injury in the first week and got back two Wednesday. Shumpert was so outstanding in his return — at both ends of the court — that D’Antoni said he would consider starting him Friday night in Washington. That might be a boost for the lineup, but it is also another adjustment to make.
Meanwhile, commentators are already speculating about D’Antoni’s job security, given the wobbly start and his tenuous contract status. It is too soon to call any game critical. But a loss Friday to the 0-6 Wizards would be considered disastrous.
“That’s New York,” D’Antoni said of the mild panic. “That’s fine. That’s just the way it goes.”
As the Garden emptied Wednesday night, a fan near the upper press box shouted, “Phil Jackson!” to no one in particular. It was just one, isolated voice, venting frustration. But the sentiment could quickly become contagious.