It's not as simple as saying the Knicks are a bad defensive team, because this season has produced evidence to the contrary. The most recent example was the stunning win in Miami last Sunday, when the Knicks came up with big defensive plays down the stretch to beat the Heat.
But when you twice give up over 115 points to one of the league's worst offensive teams within a week's time, and you can't close out a game in which you hold a double-digit lead with just over six minutes to go, as the Knicks did against the Cavaliers on Friday, then you clearly have problems.
They'll tell you that it's all a result of being new to each other. The Knicks are trying to assimilate six new players after the Carmelo Anthony blockbuster trade and signings of Jared Jeffries and Derrick Brown, and that's a lot of people to get acclimated in a short amount of time. But the problem isn't as much getting everyone on the same page as it is finding the right page in the defensive playbook. The issue is stopping the high pick-and-roll, which the Cavaliers and, as seen in Tuesday's loss, the Magic, completely shredded the Knicks with time and time again.
"Right now we are still trying to figure out our defensive strategies," Amar'e Stoudemire said. "We are still not sure about a couple of plays on how to execute defensively. We are still trying to figure it out, but we can't let teams have more energy than we have."
Stoudemire also can't let a team with young bigs outplay him under the rim the way J.J. Hickson and Samardo Samuels did in Friday's loss to the Cavaliers. Hickson was able to get to the rim mainly because when Stoudemire finds himself in foul trouble, he tends to play off his man. Stoudemire picked up his fourth foul early in the fourth quarter, but never got to his fifth. The Cavs scored 16 of their 34 fourth-quarter points in the paint.
But it wasn't just soft defense there. Baron Davis, just like Jameer Nelson on Tuesday, killed the Knicks by getting open off high screens. The Knicks don't normally switch on those and instead prefer the guards to fight through them. Davis lit up the Knicks with 12 points, including a dagger three-pointer with 10.6 seconds left when he had a clean look.
Part of the reason why Jeffries is back with the team is his ability to defend opposing guards and use his length to disrupt shots over screens, but Davis was able to elude him on that killer shot.
So is it time or technique? How can the Knicks look so good defensively against a team like the Heat and yet be so exposed by a 12-win team like Cleveland? It's certainly an issue that will haunt coach Mike D'Antoni -- who is so often maligned for his defensive acumen -- and will remain in the forefront as the team continues to push for a playoff spot.
CAVALIERS 119, KNICKS 115: Baron Davis drilled a three-pointer with 10.6 seconds left to give the Cavaliers a 116-112 lead. Amar'e Stoudemire hit a three with 7.5 seconds left to cut it to one and Ramon Sessions, who then hit one of two from the line on the ensuing possession to make it a 117-115 lead. Samardo Samuels drew an offensive charge against Carmelo Anthony, who drove to the basket with 1.8 seconds left with a chance to tie. Luke Harangody then hit two free throws to complete the scoring for Cleveland (12-49), who has won three straight against the Knicks this season, including two in the last week. Stoudemire had 12 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter for the Knicks (31-29).
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