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Knicks hit the break

The Knicks' Landry Fields, left, holds off Raymond

The Knicks' Landry Fields, left, holds off Raymond Felton as Felton has words with Atlanta's Al Horford (not pictured) during the second half. (Feb. 16, 2011) Photo Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

What is the value of adding Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton in the offseason? At this point, you can establish it at a modest nine wins.

After Wednesday's 102-90 win over the Hawks, the Knicks are 28-26 at the all-star break. Last season the team was 19-32 at the all-star break and at the 54-game mark the team was 19-35.

"I think that we made a huge jump since last year," Amar'e said, "but we feel we could have done better before the break."

Coincidentally, the 54th game last season was the first as a Knick for Tracy McGrady, who was acquired by Donnie Walsh at the trade deadline in a move that was more about the cap space it created for 2010 rather than the fact that it brought in a fading star.

This year, the Knicks are targeting a star in his prime. So will Game 55 this season, next Wednesday against the Bucks, be the first for Carmelo Anthony as a Knick?

Probably not. We're circling Feb. 25 at Cleveland as the most likely date you could see Carmelo wearing orange-and-blue with, of course, No. 30 on the back.

Talks are sure to continue through all-star weekend, though it's highly unlikely anything gets done before Sunday's game. Neither Walsh nor Mark Warkentien will be in Los Angeles, but assistant GM Allan Houston will and, of course, owner James Dolan will also be there for the annual Board of Governors meetings, which Nuggets executive Josh Kroenke will attend as well.

A chance to chat? Perhaps the rest of the owners, and David Stern, will look down the table at both and say, "Get this damn thing done already, will ya?"

Reports emerged on Wednesday that the Nets have had some new conversations with the Nuggets, which is something we reported in Saturday's Newsday was going to happen. Here's the thing, as we wrote in the Fix on Tuesday morning, despite suggestions that the Nets were re-emerging as a threat to the Knicks, we were told by a person with knowledge of the situation, "The Nets are out."

Anthony still prefers the Knicks when it comes to signing the extension and as long as the Knicks remain in the hunt, that should trump any efforts Denver makes in trying to play one team off the other. We also reported here in Tuesday morning's Fix that the Rockets were also out. The Mavericks had some thoughts but they aren't wasting much energy on it anymore.

In the end, the Knicks remain the only horse in the race. So what is taking so long?

Seriously, Fixers, it's amateur hour out there in Denver. The scariest thing about this deal, I was told by one source, is that it's impossible to know what the Nuggets want to make a deal happen because they don't even know what they want. That's why this thing is destined to go all the way to the deadline. Perhaps once they're pressed to make a decision, they'll be able to make one. If they keep Carmelo out of spite, knowing full well he won't sign the extension, then it could wind up being a blunder far worse than the Cavaliers' blind faith in LeBron James.

Getting back to the team's record: the Knicks are one win shy of last season's total with 28 games to go. But, again, it's unfair to compare the two teams because they played under completely different circumstances. This year's team is supposed to make the playoffs and, at this point, appear destined for it.

Mike D'Antoni didn't at all sound satisfied with being two games over. 500 going into the all-star break, but his focus remains less on the winning percentage and more on the win total. "We still need to get to the 40s," he said.

Asked what he felt the team needed to do better down the home stretch, which comes after the all-star break, D'Antoni spoke about defense.

"We need to commit to getting into guys defensively and be animated and not let [opponents] do what they want to do," he said. "You can be techncially right, but you're not aggressive enough, physical enough, you're not tough enough and we have to do that."

But whether they make a trade for Carmelo or not, the schedule -- with 17 of the last 28 games against teams with losing records -- certainly affords them ample opportunity to reach D'Antoni's goal. In fact, if the Knicks just play .500 ball (14-14) the rest of the way, they'll guarantee themselves their first winning season (42-40) since they finished 48-34 in 2000-01.

Seriously, it's been 10 years since the Knicks won 40 games, let alone finished at or above .500.

* * *

* - So much for the Amar'e vs. Al Horford battle. Amar'e scored 23 points and had seven rebounds and two blocked shots, while Horford had a double-double with 12 points and 11 boards. The two barely looked at each other. Coincidentally, they both left New York as teammates for the East squad at All-Star Weekend. Stoudemire didn't say much after the game, other than he used some tough talk after Tuesday's practice ("He don't want to see me," he said of Horford) as a motivational tool. "It's just my character," Stoudemire said. "It motivates me sometimes to make those kind of [comments]." Read more about this topic in my column in Thursday's Newsday.

* - For the first time in his tenure as coach, the Knicks will be buyers, not sellers, at the trade deadline. But D'Antoni says he still isn't enjoying this time of year any more than in the past because of all the rumors. It's so easy to toss names back and forth, but we forget sometimes that we're talking about human beings, who have families and lives that will be dramatically disrupted. Even just a rumor can cause unnecessary stress.

"You just deal with it," D'Antoni said. "I just think the landscape's changed a little bit with everybody reporting and all the blogs and all that. There are just so many things out there that just aren't true. You can't get a handle on it.

"It's kind of funny after a while," he continued. "Just a few years back, hardly anything came out before the trade was happening."

Mike apparently never got on Peter Vescey's mailing list. Before Al Gore invented the internet, Vescey invented the NBA trade rumor genre.

* - Shawne Williams went down in a heap when he banged knees with Jamal Crawford in the fourth quarter and had to be helped off the court by two teammates. It was a concerning moment because replays showed Williams' knee seemed to buckle a bit on impact. Afterward, however, the injury was deemed a contusion and he isn't expected to miss any time. Williams could be an important figure in the wake of a potential roster shakeup that could result from a Carmelo trade. If the Knicks decide to give up Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, Williams, at the very least, is still on the bench as a capable backup at power forward.

By the way, like we told you in yesterday's Fix, the ready-to-go Kelenna Azubuike may factor in here post-deadline, especially if there is a roster shakeup.

* - If these are the last games for Chandler as a Knick, he's going out with a bang. He had his second consecutive 20-point effort (20 vs ATL after 21 vs NJN), which was the first time he's done that since the end of December. And, for the record, the ankle looked quite fine on that spectacular reverse-dunk alley-oop. Just bloggin.

* - Raymond Felton had his 24th double-double of the season (13 points, 11 assists) and 27th double-figure assist effort. But he was also 6-for-16 from the field, which was the second-most FGAs on the team behind Stoudemire's 17.

* - Timofey Mozgov played just 13:57 and recorded 4 points, a rebound and a blocked shot. The small-ball lineup was working well for the Knicks against a Hawks team that mostly plays small as well, with 6-10 Horford as the center and 6-9's Marvin Williams and Josh Smith at forward. Also, Ronny Turiaf (4 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block in 15:22) played some effective minutes at center, which kept Mozgov on the bench. But after the game, D'Antoni said the plan was to stick with Mozgov as the starting center.

* - It was the second game that the Knicks wore the classic uniforms from early in the Patrick Ewing era, before the logo change. We've been hinting to you about a potential uniform change to come, perhaps as early as next season, and from what we understand, this would be the look. If you haven't seen them, check out Newsday's photo gallery off the game against Atlanta or last Friday's game against the Lakers. Now if I can only get blue back in the three-second lanes on the Garden court....

* - Most of the players had planned trips home (even Landry Fields, though the NBA will hardly give him enough time of his own for this busy weekend with the Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam on Friday). Danilo Gallinari, however, is staying in New York City. "This is my home," he said. He hopes it remains that way after Feb. 24.

* - Something no one has mentioned because, perhaps, no one wants to think about it yet: The argument that the Knicks may not have the cap space to sign Chris Paul or Deron Williams as free agents in 2012 is moot. Why? Call it the LeBron Effect: Both the Hornets and Jazz, just like the Magic, will be forced to consider trading their stars by the trade deadline if they can't get them to commit to an extension. The Knicks have to keep themselves in play for that kind of scenario. And, yes, the rest of us have to be prepared to do this all over again next season. Good times.

* - I'll be headed to L.A. tomorrow to experience my first NBA All-Star Weekend. The Fix will be upated regularly with news, notes and anecdotes. As always, follow me on Twitter (twitter.com/alanhahn) and interact with fellow Fixers from all over the world on our Facebook page (facebook.com/knicksfix).

 

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