Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — If the Mike D’Antoni defense of the past few years had been in charge of protecting the United States, we all could’ve been speaking Arabic, Russian or Chinese by this point.
A year ago, the Knicks were tied for 27th in the 30-team NBA after allowing a porous 105.7 points per game. Only Phoenix and Minnesota were worse.
Yet Carmelo Anthony says he and his teammates got tired of hearing about their horrible defense, and Anthony claims he’s on a mission to change the culture.
“I was on a personal vendetta,” he said late Wednesday in the corner of the Knicks locker room after his team won their fourth straight, 85-79, over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Since giving up 118 points in a loss to Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Bobcats Jan. 4, the Knicks have now held four straight opponents under 100 points, three of them under 90 and one under 80.
The Knicks — once a laughingstock defensively — are now a respectable 12th in the NBA in defense (93.7 ppg).
“I’m not too concerned about the offensive end,” Anthony said after scoring a game-high 27 points in the win. “I’m more proud of what we’re doing on the defensive end in stopping guys.
“Philly is one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now and for us to hold them to 79 points, that’s a big deal for us.”
Sixers coach Doug Collins said before the game that he wasn’t pleased when the Knicks acquired 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler last month because he didn’t want to have to face him in the Atlantic Division.
After the game, which snapped Philly’s six-game winning streak, Collins was singing the Knicks’ praises.
“It’s the best defense I’ve seen them play,” he said, according to the AP. “It’s not even anywhere near what I saw of the three games I watched prior. This was a totally different team tonight that we played against than what I saw on tape.”
Despite getting smacked in the face on a flagrant foul by Tony Battie, Chandler finished with 13 rebounds in the game.
Yet while Chandler has added a rim-protecting, shot-blocking toughness, Anthony said he and Amar’e Stoudemire have also made a commitment to helping Chandler on the defensive end.
“Once we got Tyson, everybody was saying Tyson was the key to the defense …but it was going to start with myself and it was going to start with Amar’e to help him out,” Anthony said. “We can’t rely on Tyson to do everything out there.
“Long as I’m out there putting the efforts forth and Amar’e doing the same thing, going for the loose balls, rebounding, talking, communicating, we’ll be a great defensive team and I can see us moving into this path.”
Anthony also said the Knicks were “feeding” off the energy of rookie guard Iman Shumpert, a strong 6-foot-5 wing defender.
“What he’s bringing to the game right now, believe it or not, we’re feeding off him, as a rookie,” Anthony said. “For me to say that, that says a lot.”
The Knicks’ defense will be sorely tested when they visit Memphis Thursday and Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City Saturday, before returning home Monday to face Dwight Howard and Orlando.
“Just keeping doing the same thing we’ve been doing,” rookie Josh Harrellson said. “Just putting four quarters together. We’ve had a lot of good quarters and we finally put a couple games together we’ve had four quarters and hopefully we can carry it over just keeping it a premier defensive team.”
Photo: Daily News
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
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.