While Amar'e Stoudemire made his season debut tonight, Carmelo Anthony returned after a two-game absence with a hyper-extended left knee. Melo's return meant a whole lot more to the Knicks. He scored 13 points in the first quarter -- his season average is 9.8 points -- helping his guys remain competitive. In the half, he had a game-high 24 points on 8-for-11 shooting (4-for-5 from beyond the arc).
But the Knicks have to figure out how to score without him on the court. When he was on the bench from 2:46 to play in the first quarter to 8:40 in the second, his teammates only scored five points.
Here are three other observations from the first half:
1. Amar'e Stoudemire's defense will need work. Offensively, the power forward didn't force shots. His five attempts -- mostly jumpshots -- were all his repertoire. But defensively, he needs to improve his timing, rotations and court awareness. In one particular play guarding the pick-and-roll, he sunk too far down and left LaMarcus Aldridge wide open for a jumpshot. Then in two other plays, J.J. Hickson (a team-high 18 points) totally left Stoudemire in his tracks, sneaking behind him for two easy finishes at the rim, including a two-handed dunk.
Defensively, it's obvious Stoudemire is out of rhythm being it's his first game back. But Mike Woodson said before the game he's not worried about Stoudemire's offense. It's his defense he's most concerned about. In fact, during a timeout late in the second quarter, Woodson pulled Stoudemire aside to discuss likely what he was doing wrong on defense.
2. Knicks' pick-and-roll defense needs improvement. Entering tonight, in terms of points per play allowed, the Knicks ranked 22nd defending the pick-and-roll ball-handler and 21st defending the roll man. Overall, they allowed a total of 752 points this season on pick-and-roll plays, including passes -- 7th-most in the NBA. So far tonight, the Trail Blazers have 15 assists. And the Knicks? Only eight, to go along with six turnovers. Not only was point guard Damian Lillard getting it done (five assists), but his backcourt buddy Nicolas Batum also had five dishes.
The Blazers were much better moving the ball around the perimeter, and you can tell chemistry has a lot to do with that. Now that Raymond Felton has been out, the Knicks have lost some of their pick-and-roll magic. Tyson Chandler only had four points in the first half, and only two of them came when he was the roll man. Jason Kidd is trying to figure it out, as is Chandler. Opponents are collapsing better on him and forcing the Knicks to play more through Anthony. Recently, the Knicks have looked a bit like last year's Knicks and they need to correct that.
3. Ronnie Brewer steps up. After missing his first shot -- a midrange jumpshot -- he hit a 3-pointer and then finished with a reverse fastbreak layup in the first quarter. The 3 he hit was actually the first he made since Dec. 9 against the Nuggets. In December, the small forward shot 4-for-26 from downtown. He's 1-for-1 in January.
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