The Knicks and Nets made their preseason debut Saturday afternoon at the Prudential Center, with many more blue and orange fans in the stands to see their new-look team in action. Here are a few quick notes at the final buzzer:
WHAT IT MEANS: What's all this talk of the Knicks needing to upgrade their bench in free agency? Third-string power forward Renaldo Balkman and rookie Iman Shumpert combined for 36 points in reserve roles. Of course, it was just the first game of the preseason, but it was a promising sign, especially to see Shumpert play so well with his instant offense. Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler will have to learn how to play together better, but Mike D'Antoni's offense was clicking with quick and efficient passing (only 14 turnovers), and strong screens and rolls on the perimeter. Even Mike Bibby looked like a shooting guard coming off a couple of picks. In the starting five, Melo led the Knicks with 17 points and Stoudemire had 10 points and six rebounds. On the other end, the Knicks' D played passing lanes and down-low dribbling well, highlighted by forcing the Nets into 25 turnovers.
TURNING POINT: Believe it or not, when Renaldo Balkman checked into the game in the fourth quarter. He already came in with 10 points, but his aggressive play down low and outside shooting -- yes, outside shooting -- led him to score 10 points in the final period. Balkman stepped in for Amare Stoudemire, who was in early foul trouble, and Tyson Chandler, who was getting some second-half rest. Amazingly, with 40 seconds to go in the game, Balkman started receiving "M-V-P, M-V-P" chants!
DIFFERENCE MAKER: Meloooooo! Carmelo Anthony's midrange shooting ignited the Knicks in the first three quarters, as he went for 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting. It's safe to say that right elbow he had surgery on in the offseason is looking pretty good. Melo also showed signs of solid point-forward play. At the start of training camp, D'Antoni mentioned his top scorer would handle the rock more with Chauncey Billups gone. Melo connected with Tyson Chandler twice -- one-time for an alley-oop. Melo's threat as an offensive player will keep off-defenders on their toes and allow Chandler to expose the backdoor.
It will be interesting to see how Chandler adjusts to playing with Anthony and Stoudemire, who both demand clear-outs from 15 to 23 feet out. Chandler is not used to playing with two superstars like that; he's used to the constant pick-and-roll, having played with two great point guards in Chris Paul in New Orleans and Jason Kidd in Dallas. But if he and Melo can fine-tune a two-man game together, they'll be a beast in the East.
I-MAN: More doubts about the Knicks drafting Iman Shumpert over Chris Singleton with the 17th pick in the 2011 draft were erased today. Shumpert had been impressive during training camp with his perimeter accuracy and attack mentality, and he carried that over to the Prudential Center. In just 25 minutes, he finished with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting (1-of-3 from downtown). While talk will likely emerge about whether or not Shumpert has a legitimate shot to steal minutes from Toney Douglas and Landry Fields -- maybe even start over Fields at the two -- the rookie could become and may be best suited as the team's sixth man.
With Bill Walker banged up (a strained left groin) and losing out to prize free-agent target Jamal Crawford, that could be a blessing in disguise, especially because of Shumpert's defense. That was highlighted in one possession at the start of the second quarter when the 6-5 combo guard swatted the ball out of All-Star Deron Williams' hands during a one-on-one defensive matchup, and he took it in for the fastbreak layup.
WHAT'S NEXT: A home-and-home versus the Nets at MSG on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
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