HARTFORD, Conn. -- One of Mike D'Antoni's famous lines was when he was asked two seasons ago if his team had enough shooters to make his system work properly.
"We have enough shooters," he said, "We need makers."
It seems that continues to be the missing element for him here in New York. We know his lineup has a potentially explosive pick-and-roll combination with Raymond Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire, but teams, such as the Celtics, know they can pack it in against the Knicks because they'll dare you to beat them from the perimeter.
And what we've seen so far in this preseason is that the Knicks can't beat you from the perimeter.
"We've got to get some scorers," D'Antoni said after tonight's 97-84 loss to the Celtics in what was an entertaining, intense game for most of three quarters, until the Knicks offense completely sputtered (without, of course, Stoudemire, who was in a suit on the bench for the night). "We still have to get some shooting because we're not shooting the ball well."
The Knicks went into the game carrying a misleading 46.2 percentage from the field, which ranked sixth-best in the NBA preseason. Why? Because the team shot 58.9 percent in their lone win (over Armani Jeans Milano) and hasn't cracked 42 percent in any of the other three, which happened to come against NBA competition.
Last night's 28-for-70 effort (40 percent) included good performances by Danilo Gallinari (6-for-11), Wilson Chandler (5-for-9) and Felton (6-for-13). But that just means everyone else was really bad. And until last night, Gallinari, arguably the team's most notable perimeter threat, had been misfiring at an alarming rate. He went into the game shooting 34.3 percent from the field (12 for 35) and 7 for 25 from downtown.
Another player with a deep-ball reputation who has struggled is Roger Mason, who went 1-for-5 tonight (1-for-3 from 3PT) and is now shooting 25 percent (5-for-20) from the field in the preseason and 30.7 percent (4-for-13) from downtown. Mason shook his head and said, "I hate the preseason," but spoke with the confidence of a proven shooter when he said he wasn't concerned. What he has learned so far is that this system will find him many open looks. His issue, he said, is "I'm forcing it a bit too much."
If he can get into a groove, Mason has a place in D'Antoni's rotation much like Eddie House had in Phoenix. If not, the 30-year-old veteran could find himself toiling on the bench behind less experienced players.
One could be Toney Douglas, who started tonight next to Felton in the backcourt. But with all of the defensive intensity Douglas brings into the game, he has not been able to find the rim consistently. Actually, in tonight's game, he didn't find it at all. Toney the Tiger had the halo tonight -- 0-for-7 from the field (0-for-3 from 3PT) to drop his preseason shooting percentage to a dismal 23 percent (6-for-26) and 21.4 percent from three-point range (3-for-14). That's harder on the eyes than Shaq in a Celtics jersey.
And, with so much uncertainty in Kelenna Azubuike's return (even when he is deemed healthy enough to play, he's still going to need time because it's been almost a year since he's played), it's concerning enough to wonder if Donnie Walsh will wait much longer to try to get Rudy Fernandez in a Knicks jersey. Fernandez happens to be shooting 51.6 percent from the field (16 for 31) in four preseason games so far with the Trail Blazers. The hurdle remains Portland's asking price of a first round pick and, of course, their unwillingness to be flexible with the team everyone knows the disgruntled Blazer would most love to play for.
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* - Felton looked absolutely terrific in the first quarter, when he had nine points in 9:19 and played exactly like the point guard needs to play in this system: attacking with his offense. Felton, who finished with 16 points and five assists in 27:58, told me it wasn't a matter of getting comfortable in the new system as much as it was "getting back into that mode, the way I'd been playing my whole life."
He said in Charlotte, he had to change that mentality. "I was more of a set-up point guard that took shots when I needed . . . and that was cool, I can still take things I learned from that and put it to this system. It's all about getting back to just running all the time and being aggressive, really."
I asked him if he watched any film on Steve Nash, to see what he did to master this system. "I definitely watch him, I watched film on Steve before, even before getting into this system," Felton said. "He's really great at using the screen-and-roll, reading it and finding people and scoring when he needs to. He's one of the best at it. I definitely learned a lot from looking at it. But at the same time, I still got to do it my way."
* - An observation of Anthony Randolph: his experience with Don Nelson in Golden State must have really hurt him. The kid looks at D'Antoni every time he makes a mistake or is called for a foul. He is constantly looking toward the bench with a worried expression, as if he's waiting to be brow-beaten. The Knicks really have to get his confidence up before they can expect him to be as effective as his potential suggests. D'Antoni has been extremely supportive of him publicly.
* - Timofey Mozgov was greeted by Shaq before the opening tip-off with a hug. He got to bang with him a little bit and came away impressed. "He's really big," Mozgov said. "On TV he looks big, in game he is really big. Really strong." Mozgov had 7 points, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks and fouled out in 20:22. As Howard Beck of the Times noted, what's bad about Mozgov is he fouls a lot, but what's good about him is he fouls a lot, which means he's challenging every shot. It's a concept that was lost in the recent past.
In fact, consider this statistic: The Knicks, with eight blocked shots tonight against the Celtics, are averaging 6.25 blocks per game in four preseason games. That's good enough for 6th in the NBA and almost twice as many per game as last season (3.72 per game).
* - The Knicks play John Wall and the Wizards Sunday night at the Garden (6 p.m. tip-off). Amar'e Stoudemire is expected back in the lineup after his day of rest. D'Antoni hinted of more possible changes to the lineup, with Ronny Turiaf possibly back to starting at center and Wilson Chandler back at the 2.