Missing STAT? Playing stagnant real issue

NEW YORK -- The Knicks could've obviously used Amare Stoudemire in their offense in Game 3. After all, they only scored 70 points. Whether or not the team could've collectively overcome the Heat's swarming defense, that's another story.

But the bigger offensive issue for the Knicks is that they were too stagnant in their halfcourt sets for most of the game, playing too much on the strong side, settling for jumpshots and letting the Heat's defense control where they dribbled and passed -- except from towards the end of the first quarter to midway through the second.

That's when the Knicks made stops with their zone and carried that momentum over to the other end, playing active, setting screens for each other and attacking without hesitation. At the half, they led 40-36, but in the final two quarters, the Knicks slowed down their pace, once again, and couldn't find easy shots in the flow of the offense.

Stoudemire's absence Thursday night wasn't brought up as the missing link. In fact, after the game LeBron James said the Knicks are still a strong team without STAT.

"They played some good basketball in April when Amare wasn't in the lineup, when Melo got Player of the Month and they got a record that month," he said. "They're a great team when Amare is on the floor as well because he gives them another threat, especially offensively. With him or without him, they're a great team."

Addressing reporters at his locker, J.R. Smith reiterated the overall problem was not Stoudemire sitting on the sidelines, but that the team lacked a balanced offensive attack. They didn't cover the entire halfcourt for all four quarters, which they did a better job of in Game 2.

"There were a few times where STAT was out there we were stagnant, and the few times he wasn't out there we were stagnant," Smith said. "So I mean it's not us missing one person; it's us missing a piece of our game to play at the top level. In order for us to be a great team, we're going to have to move the ball and find open men just like they're doing."

Tonight, they reverted back to how they played in Game 1, focusing way too much on Anthony on one side of the court. In the end, hero ball wasn't enough, especially because the Heat zeroed on him marvelously. LeBron James aggressively threw his 6-8, 265-pound frame at him, cutting off his usual direct linear movement to the basket and forcing him to take a few extra dribbles to at least find space. In addition to Shane Battier's backup support on Anthony, the Heat ran everything at him, while always making sure to keep an eye on and quickly rotate back to cover 3-point shooters Smith and Steve Novak.

"We were just trying to wear him down as much as possible and make him tired," Dwyane Wade said postgame.

And that tiredness, represented in Melo's 7-for-23 shooting, prevented the team from building a consistent rhythm. Stoudemire wouldn't have saved the day with that kind of performance from the star player.

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