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Defense, effort getting lost in talk about offense

Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks

Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks in action against the Indiana Pacers. (March 13, 2011) Credit: Jim McIsaac

INDIANAPOLIS -- At the shoot-around this morning, Carmelo said he spent "the last couple of days" thinking about how he can make his teammates better and he said if that meant taking 10 less shots a game to instead keep others involved in the offense, "I'm comfortable with that."

It's a nice thought, but aside from the Pacers game, has ball movement been that much of an issue? Before Sunday, Anthony was actually doing a credible job of moving the ball and he and Amar'e Stoudemire were starting to hook-up in a two-man game that had some serious postential. So one game shouldn't suddenly cause an issue.

No, the biggest issue before the trade and after -- and especially on Sunday -- remains making a consistent effort on defense. If Carmelo really wants to make his teammates better, he and Stoudemire could set more of an example on the other end of the floor. It's up to the leaders to set the tone. And if a perimeter defender gets beat and causes Stoudemire to take a foul and forces him to the bench, it's absolutely within his right as a team leader to get in that perimeter defender's face about it. That's called accountability.

We've seen that when this team commits to defense, especially when Stoudemire doesn't play passively because he picks up an early foul (will someone on the coaching staff hold him accountable for this?), they are a tough team to beat.

But when they start running around and players miss their assignments because of a lack of focus or effort, they are very beatable. And when the offense then falls into bad habits as we saw on Sunday, it's a train wreck.

The Knicks can't make this only about sharing the ball, it's about sharing responsibilities, whether it regards shots, rebounds, defensive rotations and floor burns.

Just bloggin.

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* - The Nuggets have won eight of their first 10 games since the Carmelo Anthony-Chauncey Billups trade and you won't find anyone outside of Denver happier for them than the Knicks.

"They're playing at a high level, man," Billups said. "I'm happy for them."

All of the Knicks who went in the trade were upset at first. Raymond Felton, who signed a two-year deal in the summer and was traded seven months later, felt more disrespected. The defiant side of him showed when he declared to HoopsHype that Denver is "a better team, I feel like. That's it."

Billups, who replaced Felton as the starting point guard, shrugged off the jilted emotions.

"A lot of those guys are young, it's probably the first time they've been traded," he said. "There's a lot of emotion in it. I probably was like that the first couple of times I got traded. But not for me, no big deal. I feel like any time it's supposed to be a good trade, both teams are happy with what they got. I feel like that's the case here, so it's over with. Everybody should be happy."

Compared to the 8-2 run Denver has enjoyed since the trade, the Knicks can't be happy with a 6-5 record in the 11 games since then, but the situations are quite different. The Knicks brought in two main pieces and had to adjust to a new system on the fly. The Nuggets got players who were already accustomed to being role players and they were fit into a system that already existed.

Up until the flatline loss in Dallas, the fourth game in five nights and seventh in 10, and the ugly performance on Sunday against Indiana, which was less about talent and more about effort, the Knicks had won three straight and appeared to be coming together.

D'Antoni spoke as if he can see the angry mob with the torches and pitchforks headed for his doorstep.

"Every time we have a little misstep, everybody gets all into a wad," D'Antoni said. "You just got to hang in there. Hang in there. We've had two or three practices and we've hd some good games, some really good games, and some bad ones. So it's just a matter of staying calm and getting better and understanding that we have some weaknesses and we've got to work on them."

* - Donnie Walsh did not make the trip to Indiana, where his wife and most of his family still lives, but he had a good reason. Walsh's final check-up on his hip, which was replaced in November, was yesterday. I'm told Walsh was given the "good to go" by his doctor, which means he can finally ditch the walker that he's hated to use since the surgery. Knicks fans would probably rather hear he's good to STAY, of course . . .

There's still six weeks before the April 30th deadline to pick up his option for the 2011-12 season -- though you would have to presume the Garden would make a little longer of a commitment to Walsh -- and Walsh has a lot of options to consider. He's spent the last three years living alone in Manhattan while his wife, Judy, has remained at the couple's home here in Indianapolis. Does he want to continue this lifestyle? Is he comfortable with everything that comes with the job? At 70 years old, should his role change going forward to perhaps help the franchise transition to his successor?

The bigger question is, who would be that successor? Allan Houston, the assistant GM, may make a good front man one day and recently-hired Mark Warkentien has the proven ability to handle the behind-the-scenes work. But you have to believe Houston and Warkentien would prefer to have Walsh around to oversee and advise, if anything just to figure out what do to with all these people -- Glen Grunwald, John Gabriel, Misho Ostarcevic, Jamie Mathews, Mark Hughes and, of course, Rodney Heard -- in the front office.

The Garden may need to figure this out soon (cue the Isiah panic). There is a feeling here in Indy that if Larry Bird doesn't come back to run the Pacers next season, Walsh could choose to leave New York and The Team That Walsh Built and come back here to reclaim his office at beautiful Conseco Fieldhouse, a.k.a., The House That Walsh Built.


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