By Andy Roth, Contributing Editor - Archive - Email
The Pulse of the NBA
New York, NY (Sports Network) - Carmelo and Amar'e failed their first chemistry test, while the Knicks' Atlantic Division rival should be feeling really good about themselves. Let's take a look at those stories as we take "The Pulse of the NBA."

New York Knicks

Amar'e Stoudemire finally returned to the lineup Friday after missing 13 games with a back injury, but the playoff-bound Knicks were completely flat while losing to the Cavaliers in Cleveland 98-90.

"We could have come out with more energy and did a better job out there," said Stoudemire, who had 15 points and three rebounds in 27 minutes. "We felt complacent, being that we clinched, we felt like we accomplished something. We just got to keep our focus going into the postseason."

Carmelo Anthony, who shot 50.5 percent from the field and averaged 30.6 points and nearly 22 field goal attempts-per-game during Stoudemire's 13-game absence, scored just 12 points on 5-of-13 from the floor against the Cavaliers.

On Sunday, with Tyson Chandler getting a day off, Stoudemire started at center and Anthony was back at power forward as the Knicks edged the Hawks in Atlanta 113-112. Anthony responded with a 39-point outburst. including the game- winning jumper with 1:39 left.

In the game just prior to Stoudemire's return, Anthony recorded the second triple-double of his career when he put up 35 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a 118-110 home win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday. It also marked only the fifth time he's ever registered a double-digit assist game in what is now his ninth season in the league.

As well as Anthony and the Knicks have played since the departure of head coach Mike D'Antoni and while Stoudemire was sidelined, the fact remains that for all the time the ball is in his hands, he fails to get his teammates involved nearly enough.

So much of Anthony's offense is created off isolation plays, that more often than not the other players on the floor are bystanders. You can win your share of regular season games operating like this, but I don't think it's a winning formula for the playoffs.

When players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade put the ball on the floor, they are a double-threat, in that they can either score or create shots for teammates, while in Anthony's case, most times the ball ends up going towards the basket.

But I do believe the Knicks' best chance at playoff success would come with Anthony starting at power forward as he was while Stoudemire was sidelined and bringing Amar'e off the bench. I think a big part of their recent success was the defensive mismatches created by Carmelo playing the "4" and how it threw off team's defensive schemes.

Most power forwards can't guard Anthony, and if opponents put their small forward on Anthony, it would force their power forward to guard and chase around Landry Fields and J.R. Smith.

And on the defensive end, because Carmelo is so strong physically, he's not a real liability, and there really aren't too many power forwards in the league that would punish him in the low post.

Boston Celtics

Somewhat lost in Anthony's triple-double performance against the Celtics was Paul Pierce's 43-point explosion. Rajon Rondo injured his back in that game and had to sit out the following night against Orlando.

Just as he's done before when Rondo has been out of the lineup, Pierce took over the playmaking duties and did a great job. The 10-time All-Star had a career-high 14 assists and added 29 points as the Celtics beat the Magic 102-98.

Pierce, who has averaged at least four assists six times in his career, is putting up 4.6 per game this season. Carmelo, on the other hand, has never accomplished that feat.

You win championships with players like Pierce, not Anthony.

Elsewhere on the Boston front, Ray Allen has now missed seven straight games with a sore right ankle and the Celtics are still not sure if or when he'll return to action. But an even bigger question mark is if Allen will be playing in Beantown next season?

The 10-time All-Star, who reportedly was close to being dealt to the Timberwolves prior to the trading deadline, is a free agent this summer and can't say with any certainty that he'll be wearing Celtics green next year. "It's hard to say," Allen said of whether he remains a Celtic. "The landscape always changes over the summer. Just from what I see around the NBA, there's a lot of teams that look forward to having me. I just want to be somewhere where I'm valued, cherished and I can go out and play."

Meanwhile, Allen's ankle injury, which has sidelined him on two separate occasions, has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise for the Celtics, as it opened the door for more playing time for Avery Bradley - his play has been a big part of Boston's resurgence.

Head coach Doc Rivers was so impressed with Bradley's play that he inserted him into the starting lineup in early April, just one game after Allen initially returned from his ankle injury. He had previously subbed for eight games for the injured Rajon Rondo in January and the Celtics went 6-2 during that stretch.

"What you see is a product of a young guy being around our system and gaining confidence within that," said Kevin Garnett. "Not just from Doc Rivers and the coaching staff, but to be able to gain confidence with his teammates and within himself. He's playing with a high confidence right now. We're loving it. We're feeling it."

Garnett also loves Bradley's work ethic. "Love seeing young guys who work hard and it pays off," Garnett said. "Love young guys who listen and put in the hard work. Seeing where he's come from to where he's at now is just beautiful, man. I hope they reward him with some longevity and something long-term."

In the 26 games Bradley has been in the starting lineup, he's averaging 12.4 ppg, while shooting a torrid 51.9-percent from the field and an even better 52.8-percent from three-point range.

And his play has been on a whole new level - more like an All-Star during Allen's second stint on the sidelines. During this seven-game stretch, the second-year guard out of Texas is averaging 18.6 ppg while shooting an out-of- this-world 57-percent from the floor and 68-percent from downtown.

In addition to the impressive offensive numbers Bradley is putting up, he's also played high-level defense. This part of the game has always been important for him and something he even focused on prior to his freshmen season at Texas.

"I want to be a dominant defensive player, like one of the most dominant defensive players in college basketball," said Bradley. "I want to hold the best player on the opposite team [in check] and play hard defense the whole game."

Bradley really flexed his defensive prowess against one of the game's best offensive players when he held the Heat's Dwayne Wade to just 15 points on 6- of-17 shooting and made a spectacular block on one of Wade's drives to the hoop in Boston's 91-72 rout of Miami on April 1.

If Bradley can carry his play over to the postseason and Allen is anywhere near 100-percent, the sky-is-the-limit for the Celtics, and they'll be a formidable opponent for any team in their path.

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