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Derek Fisher believes Knicks must key on defense

J.R. Smith #8 and head coach Derek Fisher

J.R. Smith #8 and head coach Derek Fisher of the Knicks talk during a preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Carrier Dome on Oct. 14, 2014 in Syracuse. Credit: Getty Images / Rich Barnes

There is no telling when -- or if -- the Knicks will run the triangle offense efficiently and effectively. But Derek Fisher said they have to be a strong defensive team right from the start.

Fisher has been driving home that point since his first practice as Knicks coach Sept. 30 and is stressing it even more with the regular-season opener just 13 days away.

"If you take shortcuts on the defensive end it really doesn't matter how many points you score," Fisher said. "You're going to give teams a chance to win against you every night.

"If you can hang your hat on the defensive end and just make it difficult for teams to score then on a night when maybe offense isn't flowing as well -- maybe it is -- but you shouldn't depend on that. You should have defense on the top of your list."

That may be as difficult for the Knicks to pick up the offense that's predicated on player movement, the ball moving without hesitation and finding the holes in the defense.

The Knicks have more scorers -- Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tim Hardaway Jr. to name several -- than players who excel defensively.

Opposing teams shot 45.8 percent against the Knicks last season; only 11 teams gave up a higher percentage. They also ranked 24th in defensive efficiency -- a stat that measures how many points a team allows per 100 possessions.

Center Samuel Dalembert and swingman Iman Shumpert have defensive pedigrees. Power forward Quincy Acy looks as if he can be a hard-nosed defender.

Those three have started the last three preseason games along with Anthony and Jose Calderon, a smart and savvy point guard who isn't known for his defense either. Shumpert appears to have a renewed focus, on both ends, after injuries and trade rumors affected him the last two seasons.

"It's important to have guys like Iman because there's a certain type of intensity and energy and mindset that is kind of contagious within a team," Fisher said. "Guys with a high motor and high energy that teammates enjoy feeding off of, that helps everybody.

"We have a number of guys like that. Right now we have some guys that were born that way. You see it a lot more coming out of other guys. We have a number of guys showing commitment on the other end. We're going to get better and better."

Fisher singled out Anthony and Hardaway Jr. for their effort on the defensive end thus far. But they, like the Knicks, have a long way to go.

You can't get too caught in the fact that the Knicks have given up 81 points or fewer in their last three preseason games. The Celtics aren't a playoff contender, the Raptors sat two of their three best players, and the 76ers could challenge for the worst record in NBA history.

But the Knicks have to start somewhere. If they're going to earn a playoff start, their defense will have to be well ahead of their offense.

"We've only greased the cookie sheet," Fisher said of the triangle. "That's all we've done with this. Enough to be able to get the process started to give our guys a chance to go out and feel comfortable in the game competing every night. But there are a lot of layers that we can continue to add and the players will start to explore these layers on their own once they get more comfortable playing with each other."


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