Carmelo Anthony is struggling to find his shooting rhythm at the same time the Knicks are struggling down the stretch in close games.
It's not a good combination. The Knicks, as they're constituted, need their best player and perennial All-Star to deliver in the fourth quarter even when his shot isn't falling.
The Knicks led by 15 in the first half and by three early in the fourth quarter of Wednesday night's loss in Cleveland. But with the game on the line, LeBron James lifted his game and Anthony couldn't carry the Knicks. James scored 11 points in the fourth quarter. Anthony had two, on 1-for-5 shooting.
On Monday night, Anthony was 0-for-2 with one fourth-quarter point in a loss to the Spurs. Overall, he's shooting 36.5 percent (35-for-96) through the first five games.
"I know it'll come back," he said. "Those shots that I'm taking are shots that I normally make, so I'm not too concerned about that. Yeah, I do want them to go in. But I wouldn't say it's getting frustrating."
After a sizzling start to the preseason, Anthony mostly has gone cold. The one exception was last Saturday night against the Wizards. Seeing Jared Dudley, who dubbed Anthony the most overrated player in the NBA, fired him up. He shot 11-for-18 and scored 37 points that night. In the other four games, he's 24-for-78 (30.7 percent) and averaging 18.0 points. He's 10-for-35 in the last two.
Some of Anthony's troubles could be from working out the kinks after not playing competitive games for eight months after knee surgery. He wasn't allowed to pick up a basketball for five months, and he said he still needs to get his legs back. "Honestly, I didn't know what to expect," he said. "[It's] kind of the first time experiencing this and going through it and dealing with day by day now."
It's encouraging that the Knicks are 2-3 with Anthony shooting poorly. The flip side is that they could have a winning record -- but that's not all on him. Collectively, the Knicks, who will try to earn their first home win Friday night when they face the Bucks, aren't making the necessary plays in crunch time on either end. They scored 19 points in the fourth quarter against the Spurs and 17 against the Cavaliers.
Those are two strong defensive teams, and they made adjustments to counter the Knicks, who led in both games. The Knicks didn't do the same.
Anthony noted that the Cavaliers were running pick-and-rolls with the point guard and small forward in the fourth. The Knicks couldn't stop it. "They only ran one play at the end of the game," Anthony said.
The Cavaliers and Spurs are more talented, experienced and tested, and it showed. The Knicks are finding their way as Derek Fisher continues to use different lineups. He said adjusting to new players could be part of Anthony's shooting woes.
"It's a combination of getting physically back to top form and trying to balance new teammates," he said. "How does Kristaps [Porzingis] fit out there? How does Robin [Lopez] fit out there? Finishing the game with sometimes Jerian [Grant], sometimes Langston [Galloway], starting with Sasha [Vujacic]. All these are different things that he's adjusting to. I don't think it's just about the legs, but that's for sure a part of it."
Fisher has talked about this being a process not just for Anthony but for the entire team, to learn how to play with a sense of urgency, execute effectively and close out games. Fisher said they can learn from losses, but Anthony doesn't like the sound of that.
"I don't want to learn from losing games," he said. "I want to learn from winning games throughout this process. I think we have the unit and the guys that can do that. Of course you learn from losses. But I don't want to make that a consistent thing and keep having to learn from our own losses. Truthfully, I didn't think that would be the case."