Predicament gives Woodson chance to show what he can do

Head coach Mike Woodson of the New York

Head coach Mike Woodson of the New York Knicks reacts during the game against the Miami Heat. (April 15, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

MIAMI

Mike Woodson was sitting on a courtside table, his expression appropriately dour for the dire situation in which the Knicks find themselves.

"You have to play a perfect game to beat this team,'' the coach said Sunday, referring to the Heat. "They're good for a reason.''

Well, it sounded as if that was what he said. At times his words nearly were drowned out by laughter from his imperfect team as it held a spirited post-practice, midcourt shooting contest at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, necessarily. As Woodson said, and his players echoed, the trick after their 100-67 mauling Saturday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series was to balance concern with calm.

"The mood is great,'' Woodson said. "You have to win four games to get out of any series.''

Fair enough, but Miami now needs only three, and has more talent, better health and the home-court advantage. Other than that, the Knicks are in excellent shape heading into Game 2.

OK, so there is nothing good about the Knicks' situation as it relates to this series. But let's say for the sake of argument that they are not destined to win it all this season, and that this merely is a step toward a better near future.

Given that, the complicated challenge facing Woodson and his staff actually is well-timed for an organization still evaluating whether to bring him back for 2012-13 and beyond.

If Woodson can keep his players' spirits up and, even more improbably, figure out an X's-and-O's solution to their basketball predicament, he will go a long way toward securing the gig.

Good luck with all that. Woodson couldn't even say early Sunday afternoon who will start in Game 2, and it didn't appear he merely was trying to keep the Heat in the dark.

But whether Tyson Chandler rises from his sickbed or Baron Davis keeps his back loose or any number of other variables fall into place, priority No. 1 is solving the Heat's defensive strategy against Carmelo Anthony.

Don't expect a reprise of the ball-movement ballet from the halcyon days of February. But even though the offense still will go through Anthony, it must not stop with him.

Said Woodson: "We have to somehow do something different on offense in terms of getting the ball moving from side to side, making two or three passes and seeing if we can break them down that way.''

Easier said than done, but with LeBron James and Shane Battier focused on making Anthony's life miserable, the Knicks must give it a try.

The trick is doing so within the general confines of the offense that worked well for Woodson and Melo for most of April, not the one that worked well for Mike D'Antoni and Jeremy Lin for most of February.

Whatever the plan, Woodson must convey it to his undermanned team, which for the most part has responded to him so far. If he can, and if the Knicks squeeze a victory or two out of this series, he will have a stronger case for leading the next round of the chemistry experiment come autumn.

If not, this could get even uglier than it was Saturday, painful as that is to imagine.

Woodson acknowledged he has to help Anthony strategically, then added: "I have to help all of them. That's my job.''

For now.

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