Knicks Learn What a Difference a Point Guard Makes

Offensive explosion against ghosts of D'Antoni's past

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    It wasn't hard to predict that we'd get a clinic in the Mike D'Antoni offense at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. The only surprise is that the team providing it was the Knicks, as opposed to the visiting Suns.

    Phoenix rolled into the Garden with the league's best record and an offense that fired on all the cylinders it did when D'Antoni was turning Steve Nash from a fair-haired moppet into the league's MVP. They rolled out as 126-99 losers because the Knicks played their finest game of the season. Defensively, they forced turnover after turnover and hit the boards with abandon. But offense is where the coach made his bones, so that's where our focus lands. The biggest man to thank for that was Larry Hughes.

    Chris Duhon may have been on the court -- he certainly didn't do anything that would make you sure one way or the other -- but Hughes was running the offense and the Knicks were all the better for it. Hughes dished out eight assists in the first quarter, using the kind of court vision that allowed the Knicks to jump out to an 11-point lead in the first 12 minutes. That kind of leadership would have been dandy if Hughes was hitting Spike Lee and Knicks City Dancers for hoops, but they were even sweeter because Hughes was feeding Danilo Gallinari's best game as a Knick.

    That Gallinari can shoot isn't something new. The aggressive offensive style and superstar confidence were new, however, and the fact that the rest of the Knicks actively stoking the fire was just the kind of thing you always hope to see before winding up disappointed. He was hardly the only Knicks offensive standout, but his 17 first half points had a lot to do with the Knicks running out to a big lead and defensive adjustments opened up a lot of room for his teammates.

    The eyes kept coming back to Hughes, though, as he deftly led an offense that looked an awful lot like the one D'Antoni's been known for in the past. Tuesday night may not be the thing that breaks the spell Duhon has on D'Antoni, one imagines it involves a photo of the coach sans-moustache, but it was impossible to miss the fact that the Knicks played so well with no contribution from Duhon. The win proved that, contrary to popular belief, there's a guard capable of running the offense to its specifications.   

    Now it's just up to D'Antoni to give him the keys to the car.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.