Starting Five: Knocking on the Knicks

New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony shoots during the second quarter of his first NBA basketball game...

New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony shoots during the second quarter of his first NBA basketball game with the Knicks, against the Milwaukee Bucks, at Madison Square Garden in New York February 23, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)

UMAR ALI, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 4:17 PM ET

TORONTO -- His arrival was supposed to take one of the NBA's most storied franchises back to the upper echelon yet, despite rave reviews to start, it appears the honeymoon is officially over.

Since the addition of Carmelo Anthony the New York Knicks have gone an unimpressive 7-9 and have suddenly slipped to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, losing three straight and six of their last seven.

It seems the scrutiny of playing in a major market is taking its toll on the 26-year-old.

Following a loss to Detroit, Anthony headed straight for the team bus without speaking with reporters, avoiding questions on why he refused to join a team huddle during a timeout. After talking with reporters prior to the game against Milwaukee, the 6-8 forward once again left without answering to the media following the defeat, as the pressure continued to mount. Responding with a scoreless fourth quarter in a tight game against the Boston Celtics certainly didn't ease frustrations that are beginning to show.

Of course it's unfair to suggest New York was an automatic title contender once the former Syracuse standout arrived, but the lack of accountability has to be concerning.

Telling reporters over the weekend that it will probably take a year before the Knicks have it all sorted out isn't what fans want to hear from their star player in the middle of a playoff run.

If the attitude is waiting till next year to compete already, the next few seasons with Melo could be as challenging as these past few weeks.

RACE FOR EIGHT OUT EAST

It seems every season the fight for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference comes down to the battle of the awfuls.

This year is no different, as the three teams in contention for the eighth and final playoff berth all boast records that would land them below all but three teams in the Western Conference.

Currently, the Indiana Pacers sit atop the list, narrowly hanging on to what was once a comfortable lead. The Frank Vogel era has been a rollercoaster to say the least, as a promising start was forgotten following a six-game slide.

Responding with back-to-back wins over the Knicks and a shocking overtime triumph against the mighty Bulls gives glimpses of what the Pacers can achieve but with reported in-fighting between players, the problems in the Hoosier State may affect a fragile team to quit on the coach just as the season is coming to a close.

Inconsistency for the Milwaukee Bucks will have no one fearing the Deer come April. Masking the 56-point performance in a historic drubbing at the hands of the Boston Celtics that spurred a three-game losing streak, failing to reach 90 points in each contest. Milwaukee has won back-to-back games since by scoring over 100 points to move two games back of the Pacers.

Amidst an obvious salary dump that sent stat sheet stuffer Gerald Wallace to Portland, the Charlotte Bobcats find themselves two games out, going 3-9 since Wallace's departure. As team owner Michael Jordan has been very vocal with his impression of his former club and their budding superstar, there really doesn't seem to be any incentive for Charlotte's roster to be inclined to show off to the big boss as he's already stopped paying attention.

RACE FOR EIGHT OUT WEST

This may not be like seasons past where every playoff team in the Western Conference had 50 wins, but there certainly is an opportunity for a number of unheralded clubs to have a chance of playing in the postseason.

Currently, the Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns are all hoping to catch the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Memphis appears to be the strongest of the bunch as it has accumulated wins over some of the best in the league, knocking off the Spurs, Heat, Magic, Lakers [twice] and the Mavericks and Thunder three times each. Possessing a big man combo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is as imposing as the countless quality perimeter defenders the Grizzlies have to offer-making them a nightmare first-round opponent.

In Houston there remains a rag tag bunch that seemingly gets it done on a nightly basis, as Clutch City has ridden a four-game winning streak to get within two games of Memphis. Despite looking out of the playoff race for much of the season, the Rockets have surged back into the running, going 15-6 after Feb. 1. This may be the return to the post-season fans thought would never come when Yao Ming went down to open the year.

Led by an aging Steve Nash, Phoenix finds itself falling out of contention as its star battles with injuries. Responding to a four-game losing streak -- that appeared to be the setting of the Suns -- with back-to-back wins moves them 2 1/2 games back of the final seed. Until Captain Canada is back to 100 percent, however, the desert may not be heating up the playoff scene this spring.

Sitting three games behind, the Utah Jazz seem to be on the slide out of the playoff picture as injuries have plagued an already deflated squad that hasn't found its step since trading superstar point guard Deron Williams.

LOVIN' LOWRY

When the Houston Rockets sent point guard Aaron Brooks, last season's Most Improved Player, to the Phoenix Suns, few felt his replacement would be the incoming Goran Dragic.

They probably didn't believe his replacement was already waiting in the wings, either.

In the 12 games the Rockets have played without their former floor general, they have gone 9-3 and were led not only by the usual scoring prowess of sniper Kevin Martin but by the gritty play of point guard Kyle Lowry.

Since the departure of Brooks, Lowry has flourished with the reigns in his hands, averaging 19.3 ppg, 7.8 apg and 4.7 rpg and recording his first career triple-double along the way.

Yet, it has not only been the former Villanova star's offense that has sparked the club, his tough Big East pedigree has shown on a number of occasions deep in the trenches.

Grabbing a career-high 11 boards in his last outing, the six-foot guard hasn't shied away from mixing it up on the inside and has been getting the Rockets to return to the workmen-like approach that got them deep into a seven-game series with the Lakers just two years ago.

If Houston can continue to follow its new floor leader's surge to the finish line, there may be spring time basketball in Clutch City once again.

MARCH MADNESS

It's that time of year where the NBA takes a backseat in the hoops hierarchy as the NCAA tournament is in full effect.

Like every edition of March Madness there are upsets and fabulous finishes, but for NBA enthusiasts, the Final Four presents an opportunity to get a look at some of the potential players of tomorrow.

Though considered an offseason for NBA talent coming through the college pipeline, there still are a number of players to look out for who may make some noise in the next few weeks and could find themselves on a pro roster in the near future.

Of course Naismith Player of the Year candidates, Jared Sullinger, Nolan Smith, Jimmer Fredette and Kemba Walker will likely hear their name called by David Stern one day, but some names not so familiar to the national scene may have just as big an impact on the next level.

Leading the Arizona Wildcats to a successful Pac-10 season and two wins to open the tournament, Derrick Williams is an intriguing prospect as he has emerged as one the most efficient scorers in the country. Having the ability to score out of the low-post along with possessing deadly three-point range, Williams showed off his talents in the tournament victories by averaging 19.5 points and 9.5 rebounds, making him a favorable pick on draft day.

To say the Kentucky Wildcats were underwhelming to start the season wouldn't be far from the truth but as the season has progressed they have improved alongside freshman Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight.

It's the versatility of Jones that makes him so valuable, scoring the ball both inside and outside is only the tip of the iceberg as he also is an exceptional rebounder and passer. With a skillset similar to Lamar Odom and a freakish 7-2 wingspan, it's not hard to understand why pro scouts are drooling over the 19-year-old.

Coming into the season, Knight was regarded as the top point guard recruit of the freshman class, to say he sputtered out of the gate though would be an understatement. Yet, in two games at the tournament he's shown what scouts envisioned he was capable of. Being held scoreless for 39 minutes against Princeton, it was his lone basket that would be the difference and to show that first game was just an aberration, he torched West Virginia for 30. His knack for "the moment" and ability to fill it up are his strong suit to pro scouts.

There are plenty of other prospects to look out for in the tourney, just remember though, a great showing in March Madness doesn't mean a 10-year career in the NBA is soon to follow.


Videos

Photos