NEW YORK — Luol Deng has only seen the Knicks up close three times this season, but it’s plain to him that they are not the same team offensively without Raymond Felton.
“I think Felton was doing such a great job for them in the pick-and-roll and spreading the floor,” Deng told SNY.tv after putting up a season-best 33 points as the Bulls handed the Knicks their third straight loss, 108-101, Friday at Madison Square Garden.
Since Felton fractured his right pinkie during the Christmas Day loss to the Lakers, the Knicks (23-13) are 3-5 and have dropped three straight. He is projected to be out 4-6 weeks.
Their offense looked stagnant against the Bulls. Instead of moving the ball and finding open shots, they settled too much for isolation plays involving Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith.
The results weren’t pretty.
The Knicks were down 25 points before mounting a fourth-quarter comeback behind 29 second-half points from Anthony, who finished with 39 on 14-of-32 shooting. Smith was horrendous in putting up 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting.
“Absolutely we miss Raymond,” Anthony said. “We miss him pushing the tempo of the game. There’s a lot of things that when he was playing that we was getting that we’re not getting right now.
“When we have them guys in the lineup the game changes a lot. Believe it or not, we miss Raymond.”
Jason Kidd also had a tough night, going 0-for-6 with no points and no assists while barely playing in the second half. Like his teammates, the 39-year-old was playing the second night of a back-to-back. He is also battling ankle injuries.
Without Felton penetrating the defense, Kidd must now assume the bulk of the point guard duties and has been removed from his traditional role of starting shooting guard, where he excelled as a 3-point shooter.
In January, Kidd is shooting 32 percent from the field and 35 percent from beyond the arc. That’s a drop-off from December when he shot 40 percent from the floor and 42 percent from deep, and certainly from November when he shot 51 percent from the field and 49 percent from deep.
“We’re not attacking off the pick-and-roll so teams are staying home on the 3-point line,” Anthony said. “Whereas early in the season we was getting in the paint, Raymond would make plays and then that leaves the 3-point open for us to make shots and that’s something we’re not getting right now.”
“We know they’re better when Felton is there and J-Kidd is moving around on the perimeter and getting open shots,” Deng said. “Tonight he had to have the ball in his hands, it’s just a different ballgame.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.