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New York Knicks forward Danilo Gallinari (8) reacts

New York Knicks forward Danilo Gallinari (8) reacts after being called for a foul during the second half against the Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden. (Nov. 14, 2010) Photo Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

  DENVER -- Danilo Gallinari was finally done answering questions from a local reporter who dominated his dressing time with critical questions about his Twitter usage. The only follow-up I had was why he didn't follow the witty, informative tweets of Alan Hahn.

"Who?" Gallo replied.

We strolled a hallway in the Pepsi Center en route to the team bus that leaned forward into a loading dock, looking, at least from my angle, as if it were listing. Michael Ray immediately came to mind.

The ship be sinking.

And how far can it sink?

Sky's the limit.

We've been saying that last part about Gallinari for two years now, going on three and deep down I still believe it. But as much as I've been pounding Raymond Felton for the mess he's made at point guard (despite the numbers he's putting up, he's not running the offense the way it needs to be run), an equally alarming issue is the trouble Gallinari is suddenly having with shooting the basketball, which was supposed to be his strength. It was supposed to be what he provided to open up the floor for Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire to run that pick-and-roll with the fluidity of Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough in Dancing With the Stars (pop culture reference...don't judge).

Gallo had deflected questions about his shooting issues up until Tuesday night's 120-118 loss here, when he stopped in his tracks, turned to me and said:

"I have to be responsible for tonight because I should have hit more three-point shots. I had a lot of open looks and I didn't hit it."

Gallo was 6-for-19 and 2-for-10 from downtown. The biggest issue came in the first quarter, when he missed his first seven shots, all from downtown. His first make, of course, was a three, with 6:14 left in the second quarter. His 1-for-8 from beyond the arc in the first half made up a majority of the team's 3-for-19 effort.

And clearly it touched a nerve when I asked Mike D'Antoni about the Scud Missile philosophy on a team that clearly can't shoot. His team right now is the third-worst shooting team in the NBA (43.6 percent) and fifth-worst from three-point range (32.1 percent). And this is a system that relies on perimeter shooting.

"We expected certain guys to be good shooters and they haven't come through yet," D'Antoni said, in an obvious nod to Gallinari, who is shooting 35.9 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from downtown. "Now I'm not blaming anybody, our shooters just haven't shot the ball well."

So, I asked, do you get to a point where . . . "You stop shooting?" he quickly interrupted. "Just throw it out of bounds?"

[Actually, on Twitter during the game I did jokingly suggested the Knicks just throw it off the backboard and go for the rebound.]

Then I mentioned the 3-for-19 from three in the first half and that perpetual green light that seems a misguided approach with a team of non-shooters.

"Well, we were 8-for-12 in the second half [actually, 6-for-12], so we didn't stop shooting," D'Antoni pointed out. "We started making them."

That much is true, in the second half the Knicks shot the ball much better (51.1 percent from the field and 50 percent from three, but they also got to the line for 21 free throws (made just 12, also a MAJOR reason why they lost), which suggests a more concentrated effort on getting to the rack rather than settling on the long-range look.

But, again, the three-ball is a big part of D'Antoni's offense and he refuses to surrender the plan, even with players such as Gallinari, Wilson Chandler (30.4 percent from three), Toney Douglas (27.3 percent) and even Roger Mason Jr. (0-for-3) getting nothing done from beyond the arc. It's been like firing a gun at bullet proof glass. You ain't gonna break the window, but you may wind up killing yourself.

"You can't stop shooting threes," he said. "You can't say, 'You're a lousy shooter, quit shooting and just go to the basket.' It doesn't work that way. You've got to have confidence that they'll get it and we'll get there. We've got to play our game and play it better."

He then made a telling statement, which I do agree with:

"We do have a couple of guys that are questioning [their] shooting," D'Antoni said. "And that's why New York's tough because everybody has their opinion and we have guys down on themselves. And they have to overcome that and they will."

Confidence is on E. There is almost zero swagger to this team. And when your confidence is low, it impacts other areas of your game. You lose the intensity you need to play tough defense, which this team was doing in the first five games of the season. But as the shots clanked away, the defensive intensity decreased. In the loss to Denver, the Knicks defense had some costly breakdowns, but the effort was much better. Hey, they had just 11 turnovers and on the other end had four steals and 12 blocked shots. They out-rebounded Denver 51-44 and that's while going mostly with a small lineup in the second half. The Knicks did a lot of good things in this game.

And as much as fans like to criticize D'Antoni for defense, it's really not defense that is hurting this team right now. It's shooting and confidence. 

The question, however, is if there is confidence that this team has enough shooting?

* * *
* - Be sure to check out Barbara Barker's feature on Landry Fields, who put up a monster game statistically with career highs of 21 points and 17 rebounds against the Nuggets. It was the most points and rebounds by a Knicks rookie in a single game since Patrick Ewing had 28 points and 20 rebounds against the Atlanta Hawks exactly 25 years ago: on Nov. 16, 1985. Fields kept his reaction very low key -- "The plays were there, so I just capitalized on them," he said. "I give credit to my teammates, too." -- but did laugh when told he now becomes the centerpiece of a potential Carmelo Anthony deal.

* - Speaking of Melo, there wasn't a whole lot of insight offered by the Nuggets star after the game, but he did seem to be very much at ease, as if he already knew what he planned to do. I caught up with his childhood idol, Bernard King, yesterday. Check out my story in the early edition of Newsday for King's thoughts on Carmelo coming to New York.


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