Mike D'Antoni's faith in his bench has dwindled to the point where he goes to it only out of necessity, but even the coach who is known for being most comfortable rolling an eight-man rotation admits this is a pace his team just can't keep.
"I've got to take some minutes off my guys," he said after two starters, Raymond Felton (40:56) and Danilo Gallinari (40:12), logged over 40 minutes and two others, Amar'e Stoudemire (37:59) and Wilson Chandler (37:49), were within shouting distance of 40.
Felton has logged the second-most minutes of any player in the NBA to date, with 1,051 minutes in 27 games, behind only Rudy Gay (1,078 in 27 games). Felton is averaging 38.9 minutes per game, which is the fifth-most in the league.
Stoudemire is 16th in the NBA at 37.6 minutes per game overall, but if not for fourth-quarter garbage time in the loss to the Heat on Friday, he would have logged his fifth straight game of 40 minutes or more. This is after putting in 42 minutes of work against the Celtics on Wednesday and 40 against Denver on Sunday. You knew eventually it had to catch up.
"It's been a long week," a tired Stoudemire said after Friday's game.
That's what makes this game Saturday in Cleveland against the woeful Cavaliers (7-19), who have lost 10 straight games, a dangerous trap. No, the Knicks aren't yet ready to score wins against elite teams, but they need to continue to collect W's against teams at the bottom of the standings. The Cavs are the second-worst team in the East and yet with weary legs the Knicks trudged off to Cleveland for the second game of yet another back-to-back.
In the meantime, as we've been telling you here, Donnie Walsh and his staff have been kicking tires around the league, seeing what's out there. One name that has come up is that of Courtney Lee, the third guard for the Houston Rockets who is currently No. 2 in the NBA in three-point shooting (53.3 percent). Lee is more of a two-guard, but with Aaron Brooks out, the Rockets have needed him to step into the point guard role.
The Knicks might also consider another player off the Houston roster, an old friend named Jared Jeffries. Fixer buddy Jerry Hoover made mention of Jeffries tonight after the game and, coincidentally, I was thinking of how Jared would fit on this team earlier in the day when considering bigs who could help the Knicks.
I know most fans moan when they consider Jeffries because of his below-average shooting, but keep this in mind: D'Antoni loved what Jeffries brought to the team, especially on the defensive end. The 6-11 Jeffries could defend pretty much every position on a given night and was also very smart with the ball. His $6.8M salary this season is tough to match in a trade, but the Rockets aren't playing him at all and if he can work out a buyout with them, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Knicks immediately scoop him up for a veteran's minimum.
It's just one of several options the Knicks need to consider as the schedule continues to bring more challenges each night. After Cleveland, at least there is somewhat of a break in tempo, with just two games over a seven-day span.
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* - Meanwhile, it's time to move on from the jilted emotions that LeBron chose Miami over New York and start focusing on more important issues. As I wrote in my column for Saturday's Newsday
, if the Knicks truly have championship aspirations in the coming years, they're going to have to get through LeBron and the Heat to do it.
D'Antoni sounded fired up when I brought that up to him in a private conversation after the game. "That's a fair statement," he said as he took a minute to consider the thought of having to go up against the Heat like his Suns teams had to deal with the indomitable Spurs during his tenure in Phoenix.
"We know that," he then added. "I'm looking forward to it. I like going to battle with these guys, I really do. I'm energized. It showed how far we have to go but I thought for 24 minutes, we slugged it out with them, toe-to-toe. We just have to get a little bit older, a little bit smarter and get a little more depth and we'll be good."
* - Say what you want about LeBron James and his decision but he definitely looks comfortable wearing the villain's clothes. After his triple-double, which included a demoralizing 14-point third quarter execution, he tossed some roses to the Knicks by saying they had "not a good, but great offense" and called the Knicks "a pretty good team" in comparison to the Heat. He also added this observation of just how far this franchise has come since he entered the league: "There were times in the past, for a few years, you could come in here and know they wouldn't play extremely hard." Now, he says, you have to prepare for them. That would suggest they are no longer a joke of a team that no one ever takes seriously. Progress.
* - The Heat played Stoudemire as well as any team has played him over the last month. Eric Spoelstra rotated three bruising bigs, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Joel Anthony and Eric Dampier, so Stoudemire was taking a constant pounding. In the third quarter, LeBron played the rover and immediately pounced on Stoudemire with a double-team and swiped at the ball. The idea was simple: shut down Amar'e and force someone else to beat you. Danilo Gallinari filled in the role of that "someone else" in the first half with 21 points and some red-hot shooting (6-for-8, 4-for-5 from downtown). But he lost the touch in the second half (2-for-8, 0-for-3) and really wasn't as involved in the offense as he was in the first half. The Knicks tried too hard to force it to Stoudemire (6-for-15 in the second half) when they probably should have just used him as a decoy and run the offense through Gallinari. It also didn't help that Raymond Felton had a bad shooting night (3 for 12, 0-for-3 from downtown), while Carlos Arroyo knocked down his open looks through great ball movement (4 of 5 shooting and 3 for 3 from beyond the arc).
* - DEFENSE is an area that has slipped dramatically since the streak began and that's something that again points to depth (Ronny Turiaf and his troubled knee plays a major role here and Toney Douglas just hasn't been nearly as effective on the perimeter as he was earlier this season). Protecting the rim was something the Heat were able to do with the aforementioned big bodies, which is what the Knicks lack (and need to find quickly).
What also hurt the Knicks in the second half was how they stopped running the ball. They outscored the Heat 13-2 in fast break points in the first half and had a ridiculous four dunks in their first eight baskets of the game and 17 assists on 22 field goals in the first half. But the transition game just didn't carry over -- likely a sign of fatigue -- into the second half, as the Knicks managed just four fast-break points in the second half. We've said this all along, if the Knicks are going to win, they're going to win by running the ball. They proved that when they do, they can stay with the elite teams like the Celtics and the Heat. It's obviously an exhausting pace to keep up over an 82-game season, which goes back to our original point about depth. And if they can just get Anthony Randolph running . . .
* - Another sign of fatigue? Free throw shooting. The Knicks had one of their worst nights of the season from the line (13 for 23, 56.5%). They went into the game No. 2 in the NBA in free throw shooting (81.2%), but uncharacteristically struggled from the line against Miami. The Knicks haven't shot below 70 percent from the line since their loss at Denver (23-for-33, 69.7%). Their effort against Miami was the second-worst of the season from the line, topped only by their 14-for-25 (56.0%) performance in the home-opening loss to Portland on Oct. 31.
* - Tweet of the Night: @dbhesq: @alanhahn: Chuck D just gave you a shout on the radio down in Miami! You're his lifeline to NYK when on tour. You're national!
All I got to say to that is Yeah Boyeeee.