Tuesday's 105-100 loss to the visiting Portland Trail Blazers sparked a waive of panic throughout the Knicks media, most of who have their finger pointed directly at the team's lackluster defense.
A season ago the Knicks ranked fifth in the NBA in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) with an impressive mark of 98.4. That figure has ballooned to 103.1 this season (18th in the league) and there's any number of culprits: Poor effort, injuries, age, etc.
As I pointed out yesterday, opposing point guards have done a lot of the damage, averaging 20.5 ppg (22nd in the league). Coach Mike Woodson has recently begun using swingman Ronnie Brewer to defend the position, but that didn't work too well against Blazers rookie Damian Lillard on Tuesday (he finished with 21 points).
The truth is, with point guard Raymond Felton sidelined by a fractured pinky, the Knicks don't have anyone that's quick enough to keep up with the faster guards in the league.
Of course, opposing point guards are just one of the defensive issues for the Knicks. Here are some diagnoses from around the internet:
• NJ.com's Tony Williams picked up on a particularly interesting quote from Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire, who had an up-and-down return from a left knee debridement on Tuesday: "Following a defensive-oriented practice where head coach Mike Woodson spent a vast majority teaching Stoudemire the nuances of angles and body positioning on defense, Stoudemire lauded his coach for showing him the way... 'Just having a defensive coach for the first time in my career is going to help,' Stoudemire said. "'I've never been taught defense my whole career. To now have a coach who actually teaches defense and strategies, and knows positioning and posture, and how to guard different plays, is going to be helpful and I'm taking it as a challenge and try to improve as a player.'"
• As the New York Post's Kevin Kernan wrote, it appears Stoudemire is finally accepting he never played good defense: "Like everything in Woodson's world, winning starts with defense. Stoudemire vowed to change the way he does business. Stoudemire worked hard in practice to get into the proper defensive positioning, intently following Woodson's instructions while making more than his share of mistakes."
• Stoudemire spent plenty of time working on defense Wednesday, wrote Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com. "During practice, Woodson went over a lot of half-court defense. While he explained rotations, he stressed effort and communication -- two factors that many Knicks have pointed to during their recent slide. Afterward, Stoudemire worked with assistants Herb Williams and LaSalle Thompson on defensive positioning while guarding pick-and-rolls. Both of them were showing STAT how to maintain a strong defensive stance, and to keep his hands high and active."
• As Nate Taylor of The New York Times explained, things have gotten worse of late: "The Knicks rank a modest 15th in the league in points per game allowed, after starting the season right at the top. More troubling, over those last 10 games, they have allowed an average of 101.3 points per game, which ranks a dismal 25th for that span. In five of those games — against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Sacramento Kings, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Chicago Bulls and the Houston Rockets — the Knicks also found themselves trailing by 10 or more points at least once. Only against the Timberwolves, who were playing without their best player, Kevin Love, did the Knicks rally to win."
• Jason Kidd might have to defend Tony Parker on Thursday night and that could spell trouble for the Knicks, wrote Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: "Here's what else Knick fans have to be talking about now: Woodson is down to Kidd and Pablo Prigioni to defend playmakers... Paging Iman Shumpert . . . Iman Shumpert ... please report to the Garden. This is where the Knicks miss his voracious on-the-ball skills, but he and his knee have not even been cleared to do contact scrimmaging. So the point is the Knicks' most vulnerable spot, with a date with Rajon Rondo looming in just another four days."
• Zwerling wrote that Shumpert's return might not be imminent: "On Wednesday, Iman Shumpert went through some individual contact and he was the point guard in non-contact, five-on-five drills focusing on pick-and-rolls. Woodson said he wasn't sure when Shump could take 5-on-5 contact... Afterward, Shumpert worked on his 3-pointers. Shooting coach Dave Hopla has wanted him to jump less to improve the timing of his release. In addition, Hopla has appeared to be schoolingPablo Prigioni on speeding up his 3-point release. Previously, Prigioni looked to shoot almost too patiently and methodically. Now, he seems to have more of a quicker, fluid launch."
• As Newsday's Al Iannazzone explained, a lot of the defense's issues has to do with the absence of Rasheed Wallace: "The Knicks have a need for Rasheed Wallace. But the veteran big man remains out with a foot injury. Wallace is expected to miss his tenth consecutive game Thursday night when the Knicks face San Antonio. It's no coincidence the Knicks have struggled defensively without Wallace. His presence and chatter on the defensive end were big reasons the Knicks were stout earlier in the season... They are 16-4 with Wallace in the lineup and allow 93.6 points per game. Without him, they're 5-6 and give up 103.9 points."
• New York Magazine's Will Leitch suggested that Woodson is a bit overrated as a defensive coach: "The problem has been the defense, supposedly Mike Woodson's calling card (though advanced metrics have long argued against Woodson's acumen), which has been particularly horrid at the beginning of games. The pick-and-roll defense has been gruesome to watch, and early on, the Knicks were simply handing the Blazers a free pass through the lane. The Knicks are still switching too much, but, mostly, their guards are just being beaten off the dribble, and Tyson Chandler is unable to guard everybody who drives the basket. The Knicks were outrebounded, outscored in the paint, and just generally outplayed all night."