Jeremy Lin has put a unique stamp on the Knicks. Last season, it was Linsanity. This season, it's a 2-0 record against the Knicks, the best mark of any of their opponents, and causing them to lose their first game at the Garden, dropping them to 10-1.
Monday night's 109-96 loss validates something they Knicks have been doing well all season and paints a picture of where they should improve.
First, the Knicks need continue to take care of the ball, a big credit to Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. Entering Monday night, the Knicks were averaging an NBA-best 10.6 turnovers per game. But in the first quarter, Felton had three mishaps and Kidd had one, which resulted in 11 fast-break points, led by Lin and James Harden.
"We had a couple turnovers early in the game, and they were able to get out in transition, get some easy buckets," Felton said. "It's tough. That's how we play. We get teams to turn it over and we get it going in transition. It's hard to guard, so we got a little taste of our own medicine tonight."
The Knicks kept it close after the first quarter, leading 31-29, but their defensive lapses carried over to guarding isolations and pick-and-rolls. While the effort and quick rotations the Knicks have demonstrated so well this season to contest shots were clearly not there -- Felton admitted they were a "little flat at times" -- it's much more than that.
The Knicks have not been guarding isolations and pick-and-rolls well this season. In fact, entering Monday night, they had the worst isolation defense in the league, allowing 0.924 points per isolation play, and they were 16th in overall defensive efficiency. For further proof of their struggles, the Rockets were actually 28th in isolation offense, but Lin, Harden and Co. had their way with the Knicks at the Garden. They got in the lane with ease off the dribble, just like they did in their first win on Nov. 23.
"We gave up too many shots at the rim," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "That's a no-no in our system. When teams are scoring constantly in the paint, it takes some of the air out of defense."
The Knicks started the season tops in the league in defense, holding opponents to less than 90 points per game. But now they're at 96.6, dropping them to 11th-best. Their biggest problem stemming from their poor defensive schemes comes from not stopping quick, penetrating guards like Lin and Harden.
"It's tough to guard, especially with James," Felton said. "James draws so much attention and guys like Jeremy and (Chandler) Parsons, they feed off that. When James gets it going, he demands double teams sometimes. When you kick it to those guys, they can get to the basket just as well as he can."
The Knicks have, at times, found a way to compensate for their lack of isolation and pick-and-roll defense. They're 2-0 against the Heat, featuring LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, because they kept their turnovers down and capitalized on open looks. That's what the Rockets did Monday night, shooting 51.3 percent, compared to the Knicks' 43.3.
"They're missing various key guys. I think right at the top of the list is Shump," Lin said. "He's definitely a difference-maker, and obviously Carmelo and Amar'e."
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