With Deron Williams and Jordan Farmar out, the Nets split most of their point-guard minutes between Sundiata Gaines and Armon Johnson, both D-League veterans. For the Knicks, Mike Bibby started for an ill Baron Davis, and he was backed up by Toney Douglas.
Gaines (18 points, 6 assists) was one of the Nets’ best players and Johnson, fighting for a contract through the remainder of the season, added 6 points in the Knicks’ 104-95 win.
Both Bibby, a beleaguered veteran, and Douglas, an inconsistent youngster, were afterthoughts during the Linsanity Era. The position is the Knicks’ Achilles’ heel as they march confidently toward the playoffs.
Bibby finished plus-18 and may have stated his case for being a part of the playoff rotation, chipping in a season-high 8 assists and adding 8 points (his most since Jan. 7). Bibby, who has the reputation of being a defensive liability, struggled trying to contain Johnson and Gaines, but hit shots at critical junctures and, more often than not, he made the right pass.
“I believe in Mike Bibby,” Coach Mike Woodson said. “He doesn’t move that swift or up and down the floor as quickly as he used to. In games like this you need a stable guy out there who can direct traffic, and he played a lot of minutes. I thought he was solid all the way through in terms of running our offense.”
Woodson coached Bibby with the Atlanta Hawks and respects his postseason pedigree. Bibby was a high-scoring point guard for five consecutive Sacramento Kings playoff teams. While his production may have fallen off a cliff the way Wile E. Coyote does, Woodson’s continuing faith in him has generated reciprocal respect.
“There’s a big trust factor,” Woodson said. “I spent three years with Mike. We broke through with that Atlanta team with Mike running the point guard. The first year and then the next two years we were able to go to the second round with Mike running the point guard. So there’s a big time comfort level with Mike.”
Before the game, Bibby said he disagreed with the Hawks choosing not to renew Woodson’s contract in 2010. “I just think he got a raw deal in Atlanta,” Bibby said. “Win 53 games and don’t get hired back. You know, it’s kind of hard for me to fathom.”
Bibby’s performance against the Nets an in Tuesday’s win over the Celtics qualify as small steps in a positive direction.
“Last game was probably the first time this season I felt comfortable out there as far as handling the ball and getting the guys involved,” Bibby said of the victory over the Celtics.
If Bibby cracks the playoff rotation, the Knicks will cross their fingers that a player who has five 40-point games and 35 30-plus scoring games on his résumé can rediscover his jump shot.
“In Sacramento,” Bibby said. “I was scoring 20 points a game.
“Here, it’s a different role for me.” he added, explaining that his assignment is to set up shooters like Steve Novak and the rest of their teammates. “And when the time comes, I knock down the open ones.”
Bibby will turn 34 in mid-May, and the Knicks hope their season will still be in progress.