January was a month for treading water. The Knicks tried to fit two key pieces back into their puzzle in Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert.
The Knicks struggled with chemistry because of the additions. They also struggled with chemistry because of the subtractions of starting point guard Raymond Felton, who missed the first 3 1⁄2 weeks of the month with a broken pinkie, and defensive stalwart Rasheed Wallace, who missed all month with a sore left foot.
Wednesday’s victory over Orlando left them barely with a winning record for January at 7-6. The Knicks (28-15) still remained second in the East behind Miami, but their record was good enough for first in the Atlantic Division. But January was one step forward, one step back and one step toward Carmelo Anthony landing an endorsement deal with Honey Nut Cheerios.
At least there was a feel-good cultural experience with the London visit that netted a victory over the Pistons, team bonding and the reemergence of Stoudemire.
After a shaky beginning to his Jan. 1 return, looking hesitant on offense, lost on defense, Stoudemire has roared like a lion since Jan. 17.
Shumpert’s return is six games old and he still is rusty from a nine-month layoff. Shumpert had a strong season debut in London, but tailed off. Defensively, he hasn’t lived up to his rookie-season promise. Thrust into the starting lineup, Shumpert and Felton are brand-new to one another.
“It will take time for me and Shump to get that rhythm with each other,’’ Felton said. “Me and J-Kidd, we knew what each other will do and where each other would be on the defensive end.’’
February is full of promise as Stoudemire’s star may continue to rise, Shumpert should get more fluid and the team gets back more defense with Wallace and center Marcus Camby. Of course, these are the Knicks and another significant injury could occur beyond Jason Kidd’s ailing back.
GAME OF THE MONTH: CELTICS 102, KNICKS 96, JAN. 7
The month’s highlight — and lowlight — occurred Jan. 7 vs. Boston, and Honey Nut Cheerios will never taste the same. Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett had a series of confrontations on the court and off after Garnett reportedly made an untoward remark about Anthony’s wife, La La. The chaos raged on after the game when Anthony tried to get a piece of Garnett in the tunnel by the locker rooms and again by the Celtics’ team bus. Anthony got suspended for one game. Garnett got off scot free, but in the Cereal Bowl rematch Jan. 24 in Boston, Melo got the last laugh.
Selecting Anthony would be avoiding the good and bad of Melo. The cereal incident between Anthony and Kevin Garnett was too egocentric, essentially costing the Knicks two games due, in part, to his one-game suspension. Despite setting a franchise record of 30 straight games scoring 20 or more points and averaging 30.6 points per game during the month, Anthony shot 36 percent during one seven-game stretch — 42 percent overall in January. And he now leads the league in shot attempts.
Meanwhile, Stoudemire has been a saint for not showing a hint of disappointment about not starting. (Woodson doesn’t want to mess with Anthony’s MVP-caliber season at power forward.) Stoudemire debuted Jan. 1. He is not a natural defender, but has dedicated himself to getting better. In the last six games, Stoudemire is moving alertly without the ball, teammates are finding him cutting to the basket and he’s getting his own points off new post moves.
Stoudemire won’t be at All-Star weekend in Houston, but he can credit the city for his post game after a summer working with low-post guru Hakeem Olajuwon. Stoudemire’s efficiency in January is evidenced by a 55.3 shooting percentage and 12.7 scoring average in 22 minutes.
During garbage time Wednesday, fans serenaded Ronnie Brewer by chanting his name, giving him the Scalabrine treatment. It has been quite a fall for Brewer, part of the successful smallball starting lineup in November and December before being beaten out in the rotation by James White and Chris Copeland. Brewer lost confidence in his 3-point shot and it hurt his defense. He shot 31.8 percent from the field in January and is now insurance in case Kidd or Shumpert break down. He could also be trade bait for a big man next month if the Knicks are convinced Wallace’s foot is ready to shatter.
KEY COACHING DECISION
Woodson’s refusal to place the $100 million Stoudemire into the starting lineup took courage. He decided Melo’s rhythm as starting PF and center Tyson Chandler’s All-Star campaign should not be disrupted for a player who can always reinjure his knee or back at any moment. Woodson now is finding out the “Trio Grande’’ of Anthony-Stoudemire-Chandler can work well offensively despite earlier spacing concerns. The Orlando game was top evidence. Woodson is ready to roll more with that alignment, just not at the start.
Three of February’s first four games are against losing teams (Sacramento, Detroit, Washington). The Knicks want to run the table entering the Feb. 15 All-Star break, but that would require a big home win over the Clippers, the month’s highlight game, Feb. 10. The rematch in Indiana Feb. 20 should be interesting as Anthony will play this time. The Warriors of Mark Jackson and David Lee invade MSG for the lone time Feb. 27. It will be Jax’s first game as head coach at MSG because last season’s home game got wiped out by the lockout.