Small ball fuels franchise-record 20 3s

J.R. Smith had one of the Knicks' 20 3s (ties franchise record) in the New York's division-clinching win. Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Thirty-two-point-two percent.

That's how poor the New York Knicks were shooting from 3-point range during their roughest stretch of the season, from Feb. 6 to March 17, when they posted a 7-11 record.

During most of that time, the Knicks had five big men available: Tyson Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas.

Entering Tuesday night, they had only Martin and tied a franchise record for most 3-pointers in a game with 20 (on 36 attempts) in the midst of extending their league-best winning streak to 13 with a 120-99 victory over the Washington Wizards. Martin, in fact, didn't even play most of the fourth quarter because of a severely sprained left ankle.

Here's the moral of the story: The Knicks have been playing even better offensively with their smaller lineups. During their successful stretch, they've been shooting 42.5 percent from downtown -- second-best in the league on 11.7 makes per game -- and averaging a second-best 105.8 points per game. In fact, in three of their past six games, the Knicks shot better than 50 percent from beyond the arc, including Tuesday night (55.6 percent).

"We're one of the top teams shooting 3s in the league," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "That's pretty much what we do, and they're not bad shots. I mean, you've got guys that can make them."

A big reason behind their recent offensive onslaught has been having as many as four wing facilitators on the court with the versatile Carmelo Anthony, who's a mismatch nightmare. With the extra perimeter players, Woodson has inserted more speed on the court, which has translated to better ball movement from different angles in the Knicks' offense. Combined with Melo's dishes out of double teams, the perimeter players are even more prepared to shoot and move the ball quickly.

A great example of this came at the start of the third quarter when Raymond Felton attacked deep into the paint, passed it back out to Iman Shumpert, who then attacked and dished to Pablo Prigioni for a 3-pointer. With the additional guard (or two) on the court, the Knicks have averaged 11.8 turnovers per game during their winning ways -- second-best in the league. In Sunday's win over the Thunder, they scored 125 points with only six turnovers.

The Knicks have resembled the 18-5 team that started the season when they were knocking down 3-pointers consistently with Felton and Jason Kidd in the starting backcourt. But their long-range shooting has been even better lately, thanks to the additional playmakers on the court.

Shumpert has been a major X factor. For one, his ability to hit corner 3s -- the Knicks have been shooting 46.2 percent from that spot during the winning streak -- has been a huge help in spacing the court even wider. Second, he has been handling the ball more and making plays in half-court sets and off of defensive rebounds pushing the ball up the court.

"We've got so many guys who can handle the ball, so it causes a lot of problems for the other team," Felton said. "It definitely helps, but at the same time, I'm not going to take away from our big guys. We still need them. To make a playoff push, we're going to need everybody."

While the Knicks' big men, especially Chandler, will come in handy in playoff matchups against the likes of Chicago and Indiana, their past 13 games has unveiled their best offense. The trick will be how Woodson configures the rotations to maintain it.

"I don't think that we've relied extremely heavily ever on bigs scoring," Steve Novak said. "The season, from start to finish, has really been about Melo as our inside scorer, and then the guards. … I think as the season's gone on, we've become more understanding of what the 3-ball is for us."

But can the Knicks make a deep playoff run relying dominantly on 3-pointers? One thing's likely: They're going to swish or brick their way to an NBA championship.

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