The New York Knicks have fallen into an ugly hole against the Miami Heat in their first-round series of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, needing to win the next four games to come back from a 3-0 deficit. It won't be easy, considering the Knicks' offense simply isn't able to take advantage of the weapons interim head coach Mike Woodson is putting on the floor.
Amare Stoudemire is out for the foreseeable future after punching a fire extinguisher, and Jeremy Lin is dealing with a meniscus tear that will likely keep him out of the playoffs so there are easy excuses when one decides to look at the reasons the New York offense was able to muster just 70 points in Thursday night's 17-point loss. One of the things being overlooked, however, is the fact that Steve Novak is having little impact on the series.
That was expected, of course, considering it was former Reno Bighorns guard Jeremy Lin -- not Novak -- who gained quite a bit of attention when he moved from being a part-time NBA Development League player last year to a featured contributor on the Knicks this season. But Novak's rise to prominence was nothing to scoff at, either, considering he scored more on a per-minute basis this season than Pau Gasol, Danilo Gallinari, John Wall, Ben Gordon and J.R. Smith (via ESPN's Tom Haberstroh).
It's been altogether different for Novak since the postseason began, however, as the Heat have apparently decided to actually pay attention when Novak's in the lineup. Instead of being alone in the corner, Novak's being defended by Dwyane Wade -- one of the team's better defenders -- or the lengthy Udonis Haslem (a solid matchup when considering Novak's footspeed isn't something to worry about if the power forward bites on a well-timed pump-fake).
In short, as Woodson noted in an interview with ESPN New York's Chris Hunt, the Heat have ruined other Knicks' offensive schemes simply by not leaving Steve.
"They're not leaving him," Knicks interim head coach Mike Woodson said. "I thought by him being out there it would at least open up our pick-and-roll. But they were really good in terms of showing on the pick-and-roll and then supporting it, getting back out to Novak when the ball was thrown to him. He just didn't have any looks."
In Thursday night's loss, Novak got the start, played 22 minutes and was able to get off exactly two shot attempts -- this from a man who is in the NBA solely because of his abilities as a shooter. New York was unable to easily swing the ball to him with D-Wade waiting in the wings and, since Novak's best use on the court is shooting the corner three-pointer, it isn't all that difficult to keep an eye on him when the Knicks are on offense.
Novak isn't a threat to do anything other than spot-up and shoot -- his airball after dribbling around Haslem and pulling up from 17-feet on Thursday night is an example of this -- so it's imperative that New York takes advantage of him when he's on the court. If the Knicks aren't able to get him the ball and a solid look at a three-pointer, there's no reason for Novak to be on the court. It leads to mismatches on the defensive end and a more-murky Knicks offense.
New York's inability to utilize Novak on Thursday led to a lot of isolation attempts from Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Baron Davis; few pick-and-roll opportunities for Tyson Chandler and ... well, that was about it, unfortunately. It wasn't necessarily Novak's fault, however, as Smith explained in the same ESPN New York article.
"For one, they're not leaving him at all," Smith said. "They're not giving him no type of daylight. But our strong side offense, that's what we're using right now. We're not using out weak side. We're not looking for our weak side. We're just playing one side of the court. You can't do that against this team. This team is way too good. "
The Knicks' offense is going to have to figure out how to get Novak involved if they're going to keep him on the court for anything more than a few minutes at a time. Whether that's trying to establish Chandler as a post presence, making Novak a pick-and-pop guy instead of a stand-in-the-corner-and-wait-for-the-ball guy or just using dribble-ats to get him the ball, New York needs to find new ways to use Novak.