NBA AM: Knicks Crumbling Under The Pressure
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The New York Knicks entered their second round playoff matchup with the Indiana Pacers as the overwhelming favorites to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the 2000 campaign, but after two consecutive double-digit road losses the team finds itself in a 3-1 series deficit facing elimination heading into Thursday’s pivotal game five.
While the shortsighted narrative regarding the Knicks’ postseason collapse will revolve around Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith’s recent struggles, New York’s problems versus the Pacers stretch far deeper than the maligned guard.
For starters, the Pacers have manhandled the Knicks on the glass rollicking to a 107-77 rebounding advantage in games three and four of the series.
During this span the Pacers have also outrebounded the Knicks 34-22 on the offensive boards leading to plenty of second chance opportunities to score, while the Knicks have been predominantly one and done on that side of the floor. Take game four for instance where the Pacers’ trio of Paul George (14), Roy Hibbert (11) and David West (10) nearly outrebounded the Knicks’ entire team (36) by themselves.
Secondly, the three-point shots aren’t falling. During the regular season the Knicks shot 38 percent from beyond the arc while attempting nearly 600 more three-point shots than their head-to-head matchups. But in their second round series versus the Pacers the Knicks are shooting just 32 percent from long range going 28 of 88 on their attempts.
Another reason for the Knicks’ struggles has been the disappearance of Smith.
During the latter stages of the season Smith was a driving force in New York’s success. The guard averaged over 22 points per game during the months of March and April and shot over 35 percent from three-point range in the process. Smith continued the hot play into the playoffs in the club’s first three games versus Boston in the opening round, but a one game suspension earned for elbowing Celtics’ Jason Terry, has seemingly thrown the guard’s game into a rapid tailspin. Smith has connected on just 26 of 91 attempts (29 percent)from the floor in the six games since returning to the team (18 of 64 versus Indiana in round two).
The absence of the Knicks’ second leading scorer has put even more pressure on All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony to get buckets. The scoring averages are there for Anthony versus the Pacers as the former Syracuse product is putting up 26 points per night, but his teammate’s inability to consistently contribute offensively has allowed the Pacers to zero in on him further. Anthony is connecting on just 41 percent of his shots during the series and has been unable to find his stroke from long range as well.
Before the start of game four, Knicks center Tyson Chandler called out his teammates for not sacrificing for the good of the team offensively, but Smith isn’t deflecting the blame as he is publicly taking accountability for his team’s struggles.
“I take the blame for this whole series,” Smith said after the game four loss. “It started off with Game 4 in Boston or Game 5. I haven’t been playing myself. I haven’t been playing my part. I’ve been letting my teammates down. I’ve been letting my coaches down.”
Valiant move by Smith to shoulder some responsibility, but the root of the blame goes much deeper than his offensive woes.
Game five is set for Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Future Of Kevin Love In Minnesota
The future of Kevin Love with the Minnesota Timberwolves is beginning to shift into being a recurring theme for the franchise to address. Love has remained vocal about his desire to win at a high level and has routinely taken to the media to voice his displeasure about not being able to reach the postseason.
Well, another season has passed and the T’Wolves are still on the outside looking in at the playoffs and the question has once again surfaced – is Love truly onboard with the franchise over the long haul?
Love will have the option to opt out of his contract in 2015 to test free agency, but the team’s new president of basketball operations believes the former All-Star is dedicated to seeing the rebuilding process in Minnesota through.
“You hear a lot in the media, and having been in the media, I take everything with a grain of salt,” Saunders said according to Judd Zulgad of ESPN. “Having been there, too, (when it comes to what’s reported) and what’s actual. A lot of times when players are actually going through interviews sometimes they are in a situation where the context of the interview, things can be taken a little bit out of context.
“I just know in my conversations with him since I’ve been here, he’s just said that he’s on board, he’s looking forward to the journey that we’re all going to take down the road and he’s working hard to get in shape.”
Love missed 64 games this season and shot a career-low 35 percent due to suffering fractures to his right hand on two separate occasions during the season. The forward also underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee last month.
Saunders, in the meantime, remains optimistic everything is on the up and up with the team’s franchise player heading into the 2014 campaign.
“I think in another week-and-a-half he’ll be pretty much unlimited in what he can do physically,” Saunders said. “I don’t see anything that’s happened in the past that’s going to really push him back and he’s going to hold anything against the organization.”
The T’Wolves have yet to win 32 regular season games in any campaign since Love entered the league in 2008-09.
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