Knicks Try to Keep Garden Party Rolling This Weekend

Weekend doubleheader gives Knicks a chance to step up their defensive game

By Josh Alper
|  Friday, Feb 1, 2013  |  Updated 4:36 PM EDT
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Knicks Try to Keep Garden Party Rolling This Weekend

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Woodson's defensive acumen will be put to the test in the coming weeks.

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The Knicks have put January in the rearview mirror and their 7-6 record suggests that it won't be one they remember all that fondly. 

Suggestions can be misleading, though, and it feels like the second half of the month represented a big step forward in one area for the team. The return of Amar'e Stoudemire didn't get off to a blazing start, but the last couple of weeks have seen him figure out a way to be an effective offensive player even when Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler are on the court. 

You'll take a month of fits and starts if the end result is that the Knicks solve the offensive question that has dogged the team ever since Anthony arrived in New York. And you'll take it every day of the week and twice on Sunday if it allows Mike Woodson to spend a little more time focusing on something that's proving to be a much bigger problem. 

That would be the Knicks' defense, particularly as it relates to stopping opposing backcourts from feasting at the hoop. The last three games have seen opposing backcourts dominate the Knicks defenders, which doesn't make the two wins the Knicks got in those games mean any less but it does create worries about whether it will prove to be their Achilles heel over the long run. 

Milwaukee rolls into town Friday night and they have just the kind of backcourt that a team struggling with defense on the perimeter doesn't want to see. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis can light up teams who defend well, but they're likely licking their chops at a chance to face the fifth-worst team in the NBA at defending the pick-and-roll. 

Saturday night brings the Kings, who beat the Knicks at the end of December thanks in large part to 60 points from their guards. Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette aren't Jennings and Ellis, but that's pretty much the point since even average guards are using the Knicks to bolster their stat line at every turn. 

This isn't just a question of Jason Kidd's back troubles, Iman Shumpert playing himself into form or Raymond Felton struggling. It's a whole team issue, one that can sink a lot of the good work on the other end. 

The defense was a bit better in the second half of Wednesday's victory over the Magic, hedging a bit more against screens and trapping ball handlers in order to get the ball out of their hands more quickly. A tie game at halftime became a 16-point Knicks win, which is a pretty good sign that there's a chance for improvement in the coming weeks. 

Seeing more of it over the next two nights would be a very encouraging sign that January is truly in the past and that the future holds just as much promise as it did before the Knicks slipped off the torrid pace of their first 25 games. 

Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.

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