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 — The way Amar’e Stoudemire tells it, his new coach gave the Knicks an ultimatum.
Play harder, play with more energy on both ends of the court — or else.
So far, not only have the Knicks responded to interim head coach Mike Woodson’s demands, but they are having a good time doing it.
And their newfound enthusiasm and commitment to defense couldn’t come at a better time, what with Wednesday’s critical game against the first-place Philadelphia 76ers looming.
“We know what we gotta do to win,” Stoudemire said after putting up 22 points and 12 boards as the Knicks beat the Toronto Raptors, 106-97, to improve to a perfect 4-0 under Woodson. “Coach Woodson put that ultimatum on us for us to go out there and play hard and we know how great we are from a personnel standpoint and it’s a matter of playing that way.
“We all want to win a championship, that’s the ultimate goal for us. We gotta take it one step at a time and continue to improve.”
In a game that saw the return of Linsanity, Jeremy Lin posted a double-double of 18 points and 10 assists and Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler scored 17 points apiece.
Before the game, Woodson said he expects both Anthony and Stoudemire to continue to play harder going forward.
“He’s gotta bring the energy now,” Woodson said of Anthony. “I’m the head coach and I can’t speak for what happened, and I was a part of it. But he’s gotta play harder and Amare’s gotta play harder. Everybody’s gotta play harder to get us where we need to go, and that’s the only way it’s going to happen. We can’t have lackluster performances out of anyone who steps out on the floor. It’s my job just to continue to push and I’m going to do that.”
Asked why Anthony might not have played as hard as possible under former coach Mike D’Antoni, with whom Carmelo clashed, Woodson said: “I can’t explain that. I can’t. I wish I could. We probably wouldn’t be sitting in this position that we’re sitting in today, fighting for a playoff spot. That’s my job to get the best out of everyone.”
So far, so good.
Released from playing under D’Antoni, who presided over a six-game losing streak before resigning last week, the Knicks are laughing, having fun and even playing some defense.
“We’re a different team right now,” Stoudemire said. “We’re playing at a higher level on both ends of the court. We’re shooting the ball well offensively. We’re very very…kamikaze style. We’re all over teams and we just gotta keep that going.”
Anthony, who clashed with D’Antoni, finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals over 31 minutes and appears to be making a commitment on the defensive end.
“I can score the basketball…that is not the issue,” he said of playing defense. “For my team, I have to bring the energy every night. I pride myself in that and I have been doing that the last four games.”
The Knicks made 12 steals and out-rebounded the Raptors, 46-30.
“They are a tenacious, different team,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s amazing, their tenacity, the way they attack. If you don’t meet it, it takes you right out.”
Lin is still adjusting to Woodson’s system, but played his best game yet under his new coach, facilitating so that four other teammates scored in double-figures.
“We just moved the ball and tried to pick apart the defense and really take what the defense gave us,” Lin said. “We were just patient as a team.”
Now the Knicks must turn around and play first-place Philly 10 days after a 106-94 loss to the Sixers that turned out to be D’Antoni’s second-to-last game.
“We can’t wait, we can’t wait,” Stoudemire said. “We understand how important this game is for us, what we trying to accomplish as a team. Wo we just going to take Amtrak over to Philly tonight, get ourself prepared and ready for the next game.”
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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.