In , the Knicks displayed all of their worst habits and gave substance to every quiet fear about the -Amar’e Stoudemire offensive pairing.
They were bull-headed and reckless, forcing bad shots instead of passing, barging into clogged lanes and generally turning D’Antoni’s fluid offense into a stagnant mess of one-on-one plays.
Anthony came to New York with a reputation for dominating the ball. Stoudemire has been tagged with the same criticism during his career. Both have shown an ability to adapt, but they were at their self-indulgent worst Sunday.
Stoudemire, frustrated by the aggressive inside play of Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert, tried to return fire but picked up two offensive fouls by charging headfirst into the traffic. Anthony, flustered by the physical defense of Dahntay Jones, also had two offensive fouls, along with a flurry of errant shots (9 for 22 from the field).
The Knicks registered a season-low 11 assists and shot 36.6 percent — glaring warning signs for a team still adapting to its new superstar pairing.
“We revert back to ‘Just give me the ball, let me put my head down and go,’ ” D’Antoni said Monday, adding: “That’s what we have to guard against. Those are tendencies that we’ve shown that we’ve had. And hopefully we can get that out of their games completely. I think we will. I don’t see it as a problem.”
As the Knicks prepared for a Tuesday night rematch with the in Indiana, the focus was on well-worn principles of ball and player movement. The lack of each was evident as they reviewed tape of Sunday’s game — the one D’Antoni referred to as “a horror film.”
“We can’t win that way,” Stoudemire agreed. “We didn’t move the ball.”
The Knicks are just 6-5 since Anthony arrived. Every encouraging victory against a quality team (Miami, Atlanta and Memphis) has been offset by a stunning loss to a poor team (Indiana, Cleveland twice).
Anthony has been productive, , and predictably erratic. He has converted 50 percent of his shots in just three games. He is shooting 47.2 percent in the Knicks’ victories and 41.4 percent in the losses. Also noteworthy is the difference in Anthony’s assist rate: 4.2 per game in wins and 2.4 per game in losses. On Sunday, he had zero assists.
If Anthony had any thoughts on the matter, he chose not to share them Monday. He left the practice court without speaking to reporters.
Stoudemire and Anthony have blended their talents perfectly at times — notably in a rout of the — but sometimes still look like two individuals, making individual plays. On Sunday, Anthony, Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups combined for 51 of the Knicks’ 82 shots, and 12 of their 15 turnovers.
“It’s a worst-case scenario,” D’Antoni said. “You have to guard against that. Obviously, we’ve shown that we don’t have to be that way. So all of our focus in practice and talking is going to be on how do we be the other guys.”
These are not new concerns. In Denver, Coach spent seven-plus seasons trying to coax more team-oriented play and better defense out of Anthony. The are 7-2 since trading Anthony, and soaking in schadenfreude.
Raymond Felton, one of four players traded to Denver in the Anthony deal, boasted to , “We’re a better team, I feel like.”
Another former Knick, Al Harrington, who signed with the Nuggets last summer, echoed the sentiment, saying, “If we had to play them in one game, I think we would win.”
The Nuggets were seventh in the Western Conference at the All-Star break but since making the trade that sent Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov to Denver. Felton and Chandler are key members of the rotation, as was Gallinari before he fractured a toe.
“Everybody is playing together,” the Nuggets’ J. R. Smith said in the same HoopsHype article. Smith pointed out that eight players scored in double figures in a recent victory. “I think we can count on one hand how many times that happened before the trade.”
While the Nuggets crow about their post-Anthony success, the Knicks are working frantically to integrate Anthony and Billups, with just 17 games left to make it all work before the playoffs begin.
The Knicks’ most glaring weaknesses — size, depth and defense — are not likely to be fixed in the next four weeks. They have to be brilliant on offense to make their mark.
The schedule is in their favor, with just six winning teams among the 17 opponents. Of course, it is the sub-.500 teams who seem to be causing the Knicks the most trouble — along with a more familiar foe.
“Right now, we’re playing against the Knicks,” D’Antoni said. “It’s us.”