By MATT FALKENBURYSpecial to ZAGSBLOG GREENBURGH, N.Y. —
With the Knicks mired in their first three-game losing streak of the season, the news on the injury front took a surprising twist at practice on Saturday.
One day after saying Iman Shumpert may not be going to London, Knicks coach Mike Woodson reversed course, saying that not only would Shumpert make the trip, but has been cleared to play in the Knicks’ game Thursday in London against the Detroit Pistons.
“He’s been cleared,” Woodson, whose team faces the New Orleans Hornets Sunday at MSG, said after practice at the Knicks training facility. “He’ll practice on Monday and if we get the two practices in, for sure one in London, and there’s no setback, he will be cleared, probably, to play in the Detroit game.”
Shumpert, the Knicks 2011 first-round pick who tore his ACL and had a meniscus tear during the playoffs last April against the Heat, has been rehabbing his knee all season and recently had been cleared for full-contact practice.
The initial plan was for Shumpert to stay behind and practice with the Knicks D-League affiliate, the Erie Bayhawks, but Woodson felt the schedule would not allow that to happen.
Shumpert after practice spoke with the media and explained how he felt knowing he was so close to returning to game action.
“I’m excited,” he said. “[Coach Woodson] is being optimistic. I’ve just got to make sure that I go through practice hard and make sure that I’m comfortable with all the coverages, and make sure I got the plays down and everything. That’s the biggest part with me being comfortable and me being in rhythm.”
With Raymond Felton out with a broken right pinky and not expected to make a return for at least another two weeks, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni have been the only point guards on the team. With Shumpert returning, the heavy minutes Kidd and Prigioni have been playing can be reduced to give them more rest during games.
The Knicks will take a cautious approach with Shumpert’s minutes as he gets into game shape, much like the Knicks are doing now with Amar’e Stoudemire, but they do expect improvement with every game that Shumpert plays in.
The Knicks defense has struggled the past 13 games, giving up 100+ points in eight of those game, and Shumpert, considered the best perimeter defender on the team, can certainly help.
Younger point guards have been giving the Knicks fits for most of the season, and Shumpert has been anxiously waiting for his chance to get back out there and help shut them down.
“It bothers me, but that’s what I’ve been working for for eight months, so I can come back and help with the Knicks like that,” Shumpert said. “Also, applying pressure on guards as far as us running our fast-break, so that guys don’t have as much energy to go at us on offense.”
Woodson spoke about bringing back the toughness that the Knicks have lacked the past 13 games that was seen from them earlier this season.
“We just got to be a little more physical and we were that way when we started the season and we have had some slippage in that area.” Woodson said. “I look at the Boston game, I look at the two Chicago games here at home, and they were the tougher team. I’m not going to sugar coat it, they were tougher.”
Toughness certainly was lacking the past three games against three teams chasing the Knicks from behind in the Eastern Conference in Boston, Indiana and Chicago.
“We need to get in the gym, and mix it up a little bit and if it becomes out of control, because I’m going to force that issue, I think we just need that to get back to what we should be about,” Woodson said.
With the Knicks getting some good news on the injury front, Carmelo Anthony shared the same sentiment most players and fans are feeling now that the team is getting close to being whole again.
“We’ve been looking forward to getting our whole team back for a while now, so we’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel,” Anthony said. “With Shump coming back, Raymond maybe a week and a half, two weeks away or something like that. So we’re looking forward to those guys coming back. We need bodies at this point.”
The Knicks are still 23-13 and in first place in the Atlantic Division, second in the Eastern Conference and with today’s good news about Shumpert, they also may have just gotten a little bit better.
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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.