Commentary

Is this the West Side or South Beach?

Move over, Miami Heat -- everyone loves to hate on the new-look Knicks, too

Updated: March 19, 2011, 11:17 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Mike D'Antoni was standing in the hallway near his team's dressing room Thursday night, about 15 minutes after he cut open a vein and embarked on a long pregame talk about the current "hysteria" surrounding the New York Knicks. At one point he joked that anyone who's feeling especially anxious about how the team is only 7-6 since the Carmelo Anthony trade might want to take a Prozac.

Now, D'Antoni couldn't help but laugh again when pulled aside and told it feels like the Knicks have become Miami Heat Lite.

"I don't know what to say to that -- but I know what you mean," D'Antoni nodded.

[+] EnlargeMike D'Antoni
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesD'Antoni to fans: Take a chill pill.

The level of scorn for the Knicks -- or at least Anthony -- is not nearly as bad as what the Heat have faced since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade. Not even close. Still, it's hard to think of a second team in the league that has been watched more closely, or dissected and even mocked quite as much. The Knicks' struggles are greeted with undisguised happiness in some corners of the league.

Anthony, the target for most of it, has only issued a tweet in response, saying that when the grass is cut, the snakes tend to come out.

Bill Walton actually sowed seeds of doubt about Anthony weeks before the trade. Walton said he didn't think Anthony is a "true" superstar, because his personal definition of that kind of player is a guy who makes everyone around him better.

But look at all the piling on since.

Denver Nuggets coach George Karl has taken numerous shots at Anthony in the last few weeks, reveling in how the Nuggets are 9-2 without their former star forward, and how much fun they're now having. Then New Jersey Nets coach Avery Johnson, in the midst of a nice little winning streak himself, looked at who New Jersey got at the trade deadline (Deron Williams) and who it didn't (Melo) and then, ignoring the fact the Nets pursued Anthony for months like rabid dogs chasing a Smithfield ham, said, "Sometimes the best trades are the ones that are never made."

Charles Barkley chimed in with a few shots at D'Antoni, saying the coach seems hell-bent on proving he can win with his high-octane offensive system even if it doesn't fit the talent he now has on the floor. Then Barkley added that these Knicks may be one of the NBA's worst defensive teams ever, not just next-to-last in points allowed this season.

Then, just this Wednesday, Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin preened after Denver's win over Atlanta and took another not-so-veiled shot at Anthony, saying it's such a pleasure now to play basketball "the right way" with "everyone sharing the ball."

Why all the uninterrupted noise from the Nuggets?

"I don't know, I don't want to get into that -- I have my own team to worry about," Chauncey Billups, who came from Denver to New York with Anthony, said after the Knicks' win Thursday over Memphis snapped a three-game losing streak.

So, Coach, no reaction to Barkley?

"Well, we won 60-some games in Phoenix three times, [nearly] got to an NBA final, but we haven't won a title yet with this style, so I guess he must be right," D'Antoni said Thursday, in what's become his stock answer to such criticism.

"But, you know, we are working on defense, on everything," D'Antoni added. "As coaches, as a team, it's not like we're just laying around on the living room couch between games, doing nothing about it."

The Knicks' win over the visiting Grizzlies was a step in the right direction. But D'Antoni knows they're not going to make a franchise-record 20 3-pointers every night, which is surely one reason he said afterward, "We shouldn't get too happy."

Just ahead lay a road game Friday night against the Detroit Pistons, the sort of lousy team that doesn't seem to hold these Knicks' interest. One of the Knicks' other failings since Anthony arrived is they seem to play with more urgency against good teams like the Heat than the Clevelands and Indianas, who have accounted for four of the Knicks' six defeats since Anthony arrived.

"We're working to be a better team than we are right now, and we will be better," D'Antoni said.

In the interim, the Knicks are Miami Lite, the team the rest of the league suddenly likes to tweak.

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