Monday, March 11, 2013

West Coast swing will test Knicks' mettle

Raymond Felton dives for a loose ball during
Amar'e Stoudemire is out for the rest of the regular season.Carmelo Anthony has missed three straight games. And the Knicks, in a tight fight with Indiana and the Nets for second place in the Eastern Conference, open a five-game West Coast trip Monday night at Golden State.
Can you say gut-check time? That's what the next eight days is going to be. Four of the five teams they will face currently are positioned to make the playoffs and the fifth, Portland, is within striking distance. The Knicks follow Monday night's contest with games at Denver, Portland, the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah.
It would be a tough trip for a team even in the best of health; for the hobbled Knicks, it becomes magnified in importance. This stretch will set the tone for the Knicks' end-of-the-season push and define what they can be without Stoudemire, who will undergo surgery on his left knee sometime this week in New York.
"We'd like to win them all. That's the goal," Knicks coach MikeWoodson said of the trip. "We have five games. If we come back over .500, I'm happy. It's a successful road trip. If we win them all, I'm real happy."
It's worth mentioning that the Knicks were 21-9 when Stoudemire missed the first two months of the season after undergoing the same procedure on his right knee. The Knicks, however, had a healthy Anthony during that stretch.
With Anthony's status undetermined -- he has not practiced or played since leaving in the first half of the Knicks' win over Cleveland last Monday with a right knee injury -- the Knicks are going to have to get offensive production from the rest of the roster.
Here's a look at some players who will play key roles:
J.R. Smith-- With Stoudemire out, Smith becomes the team's secondary scorer. And with Anthony out, he becomes the most important offensive player on the team.
Smith, like the rest of the Knicks, had a big night against Utah on Saturday, scoring 24 points and shooting a very efficient 10-for-19. Earlier in the week against a strong Thunder team, Smith scored a season-high 36 points but missed a potential game-winning shot in the final seconds.
Can Smith continue to deliver on a consistent basis? Woodson certainly hopes so. He said, "I need him to be J.R. and score the ball like he's been scoring it."
Steve Novak-- Don't get too excited about all the talk of Novak putting the ball on the floor against the Jazz. Novak, who had a season-high 20 points on Saturday, isn't in the NBA for his ability to score off the dribble. His game is built around his three-point shooting, and the Knicks have to set screens to get him open.
Said Woodson: "We've got to find ways for Novak to score the ball, because that opens it up a little bit."
Kenyon Martin-- The Knicks suddenly find themselves in the unlikely position of relying upon Martin, a veteran who was out of work before the Knicks signed him to the first of two 10-day contracts two weeks ago.
Martin stands to benefit most without Stoudemire in the lineup. Against Utah, the 35-year-old had three first-half dunks and finished with 10 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes.
Martin also is a hard-nosed defensive player. On Thursday, he did an impressive job of guarding the Thunder's Kevin Durant.
Martin said he's ready to do whatever the team needs. "It's unfortunate with Amar'e going down that you have to benefit from something like that," he said. "But I'm going to take advantage of it and try to help this team win."

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