NEW YORK -- To 'Melo or not to 'Melo? That is the question hanging over the Knicks as they approach the trade deadline. Thursday night's 93-88 win over the Heat may not have answered that question, but it did provide a measuring stick as to where this team stands in the Eastern Conference pecking order. Let's take a look at a few things we learned about the Knicks.
1. The Knicks have some margin for error. Miami can withstand a 7-for-24 shooting performance from LeBron James and still be in the mix in the closing seconds of any game because it has the luxury of leaning on a 14-for-22, 34-point, 16-rebound night from Dwyane Wade. Of course, few teams in history have had that luxury.
The Knicks aren't one of those lucky clubs, but they did manage to find a way on Thursday. Amar'e Stoudemire scored only two points in the fourth quarter, yet Danilo Gallinari and Landry Fields combined for 17. The Knicks shot 23.1 percent from three-point range entering the final period, but connected on 5-of-7 in the closing 12 minutes.
New York won't be able to count on the emotion of a pumped-up crowd every night, but the fact that it was able to topple a quality opponent despite an off night from Raymond Felton, a dismal night from the floor (36.1 percent) and James' late 10-point flurry may go a long way in sending this team toward the playoffs with a legitimate chance at reaching Round 2.
2. The Knicks are capable of playing defense. Entering the game ranked 20th in the league in field-goal defense (46.5 percent), New York slowed down Miami with smarts and patience, though let's remember Chris Bosh didn't play. Still, wing defenders Gallinari and Shawne Williams stood their ground on James, refusing to bite on his stunts or fakes. More often than not, that left James misfiring on a fadeaway 17-footer or an awful try from long range.
In the fourth quarter, the Knicks collapsed, as best they could, on Wade, trying at least to make his forays to the hoop uncomfortable. "He finally missed a few shots," coach Mike D'Antoni said of Wade. "He's human. We just kept trying to tighten it up and help as much as we could."
Most important, the Knicks slowed the pace, working their offense carefully for a good look and getting a chance to set their defense on the other end. "The first two games [New York played Miami], we got caught by surprise at how fast they are and the way they play," Stoudemire said. "They are very aggressive, very quick, very fast and very strong. Tonight we put a total 48-minute game together and got the win."
3. A garbage man is needed. If you're going to hoist 83 shots, as the Knicks did Thursday in nearly hitting their season average of 84 (fourth most in the NBA), Fields can't run down all of the misses. You need garbage men, players whose mission in life is to live off the glass, especially on offense. Shawn Marion became an All-Star in Phoenix under D'Antoni because he cleaned up the mess left by the Suns' shooters. Who's willing to do that and who's capable of doing that for the Knicks? The rookie Fields, who had 19 points, a team-high 13 rebounds and six assists against Miami, has been a dirty-work revelation in the backcourt, but he can't be expected to crash the boards every night if he is going to have to chase the Wades of the world around, too. Carmelo Anthony is not that guy, and if the Knicks end up dealing several players for the big-money All-Star, it will further deplete the candidates for this all-important job.
4. The Knicks have their leader. On Wednesday, Stoudemire said no one is afraid of the Heat. On Thursday, the Knicks played to those words. Stoudemire wasn't dominant against a wily Joel Anthony -- the newly named All-Star starter finished with 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting -- but he kept New York close through three quarters before his teammates found their marks late. No, he wasn't the best played on the floor, but Stoudemire was a whole lot more inspiring than James, who seemed more interested in getting on a flight out of snowy New York.
5. The three-pointer isn't always the best shot. Yes, the D'Antoni offense welcomes the open three, but some nights (like Thursday), those aren't going to fall. Still, quarter after quarter, the likes of Felton, Wilson Chandler and Gallinari kept firing as if points would be awarded at a volume discount. Logic says a target is easier to hit the closer you get to it, so why not try? Mid-range shots were available; the Heat were practically begging the Knicks to take them. Yet they seldom did. Though it worked out in the end as Gallinari and Fields caught fire in the fourth, far too many nights have seen the Knicks fall when their threes don't. With a team as close to being consistently good as New York is, why not take what a defense gives you? Maybe a shooter or two finds a rhythm and you won't need to stage a 29-15, fourth-quarter rally to squeeze past a Heat team minus one of its top players.