Knicks Remain NBA’s Only Unbeaten Team With Defeat Of Mavericks

Published on: 10th November, 2012

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Knicks Remain NBA's Only Unbeaten Team With Defeat Of Mavericks  | read this item

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New York – It’s way too early to be evaluating any NBA team or to make any projections regarding the rest of this 2012-2013 season but, if you’re a Knicks fan, it’s okay if you start to dream a little. Nobody will hold it against you.

Just four games into the season, the Knicks find themselves the only NBA team still able to call it itself undefeated.  In this topsy-turvy world, where the Boston Celtics (2-3) are looking up from fourth place, the Minnesota Timberwolves (4-1) are looking down from first place in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference, and the Lakers just fired their head coach, Mike Brown after just five games, it is the Knicks that have the league’s best record, smallish sample that it may be.

With a roster dotted with old, no, make that VERY OLD men as its average age of 31.6 will attest, plus, very few players who are viewed as NBA-quality elite athletes (you know, the running and jumping part of the game), what’s been different about these Knicks, so far?

It isn’t one thing anyone can point to for this sudden success. In reality, it’s EVERTHING that’s different from last year. Hell, it’s everything that’s different from the last 12-years of mostly futility!

What we are seeing is a Knicks team that is winning games using a combination of a newly developed  high level of basketball IQ, excellent spot shooting, knowing when to isolate players like Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, superb rebounding, leadership from all of the veterans on this team, mental toughness derived directly from the teachings of Mike Woodson, physical toughness from players like Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler, and even, from Carmelo Anthony, who is playing at levels he had yet to demonstrate in his first eight years as a scoring machine.

Nobody believed before this season began this mixture of very old former stars and not so old never were stars would be playing a brand of basketball that would be the envy of other teams. But, here we are.  Players and coaches around the league have taken notice.

“They have much better spacing and they’re stretching the floor,” said Elton Brand tonight after the Knicks beat his Dallas Mavericks, 104-94, at Madison Square Garden. “On defense, they are really playing hard and getting wins.”

Nobody has said that about a Knicks team since the Pat Riley era, when all they did every night was play hard. That was more than 20-years ago.

Mavs coach, Rick Carlisle has been around a few winning organizations, having grown up in the Celtics system and coaching the Mavs to an NBA title just two seasons ago.

“The Knicks are a very good team,” he said. “In my opinion, they are one of a handful of teams that has a chance to come out of the East. I like their talent, extremely well-coached, and they have Jason Kidd. And, Jason Kidd is going to bring everybody’s level of focus, concentration, and intensity up an awful lot. That’s just how things work when he’s around. He’ll even have the broadcasters in a defensive stance, trust me on that.”

And, there, in a nutshell is one of the best reasons the Knicks have suddenly become mentally tougher while increasing their collective basketball IQ’s exponentially, from last year to this. It almost doesn’t matter how many minutes the 39-year old Kidd plays this season. Having a basketball-savant like the 6’4”, 19-year veteran and certain Hall of Famer in your locker room, on the road, and of course, on the basketball floor is like having the best professor in the history of professing. He’s that important.

Kidd has instilled the thinking-man’s guide to, well, thinking about ways to win games, not just look good in losing them. It’s one thing for a player like Carmelo Anthony to put up 35-points in another losing effort and it’s another thing for Anthony to play the game with a singular purpose of making his teammates better by taking advantage of his tremendous skills on the court to set up his mates to get better shots for themselves.

Kidd, because of his near-legendary status around the league as the best point guard of his generation,  is teaching this team how to think fundamentally, make the smart pass instead of the spectacular attempt, play hard-nosed team defense, and to play under control in crunch time, when most NBA games are won or lost.

Raymond Felton, acquired during the off-season to replace folk hero, Jeremy Lin, is the starting point guard on this team but he recognizes Kidd for all the little things he does and tries to impart to other Knicks.

Tonight, the Mavs O.J. Mayo had gotten off to a great shooting start and the young player was on a roll, having scored 14-points in the first half on 5-8 shooting. Then, Kidd started the third quarter guarding Mayo.  Kidd, almost twice Mayo’s age, slowed the young shooter’s momentum, holding Mayo to just two shots the entire third quarter, a three-pointer and two foul shots, as the entire Knicks defense took on the challenge. The Knicks outscored the Mavs in the quarter, 29-21, forging them back into the lead, 84-78.

Knicks coach Mike Woodson noticed the effort of his team.

“You have to give Dallas credit,” he said. “They’ve been playing pretty good basketball and scoring at a high rate. They’re playing a lot faster. I tried to warn our guys of that. I thought in the second half we kind of settled in our defense, we started to click a little bit. I think we held them to 37 points in the second half. We’ve had four straight games where no one has scored over 40 points in the second half against us. That’s locking in and taking pride in defending the ball.”

This new-found emphasis on defense is Woodson’s way. It must have driven him crazy to sit on former coach, Mike D’Antoni’s bench as an assistant, watching his predecessor’s decided lack of concern for the defensive end of the court.

Woodson feels the influx of veterans, despite their slower reaction times and decreased athleticism, more than makes his job easier.

“The players that we’re talking about…the Kidds, the Cambys (Marcus), the Rasheeds (Wallace), they’ve been in enough systems that they just know how to play,”said Woodson. “It’s easy to plug them in different times in the ballgame where they don’t hurt you. I just hope that continues for the rest of the year. If we can keep guys healthy, I think we have enough players that we can shuffle in and out that will make a difference.

None of this would work, of course,  if the lead dog of an NBA team doesn’t buy into the coach’s system and teachings.

Unlike the rocky relationship Anthony had last year with D’Antoni, the 6’8” forward has not only signed up to be Woodson’s star student, he’s leading the way with his performance all over the court.

“Carmelo is making guys around him better,” Woodson said. “I kind of like coaching in tight games like tonight’s just to see who is going to step up and make plays. I thought Melo’s three was probably the biggest shot of the second half in terms of giving us that cushion that we needed to bring home a win. They all believe in each other, and you can really see that.”

It is still very early in the season so let’s not get too excited over the unblemished start of this Knicks team. Given the risk, in fact, the likelihood of injury to the older players on this team, it’s easy to temper one’s excitement for the MSG darlings. But, Anthony isn’t buying into the negative thoughts.

“We ain’t worrying about the naysayers,” he said. “We’re just focusing on Orlando at this point. These four games are over with and we move on and take it one game at a time. I’ve been saying that since training camp and I’m going to continue to say that.”

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