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Bargnani’s Emergence Critical For Knicks

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New York’s own Batman turned up to Madison Square Garden last night, Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 45 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists, in their 109-106 loss to the Rockets, but for the fourth game in a row he had Robin to help shoulder the offensive load. Andrea Bargnani, who was booed within five minutes of taking the court in the Knicks’ home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks, has finally begun looking comfortable with his new teammates, and is stepping up with some crucial minutes for Mike Woodson.

Bargnani scored 24 points (9/12 shooting) for the Knicks and played surprisingly strong defense on Howard, who shot 1/5, for 7 points. Howard rebounded strongly though, finishing with 15 for the game. Coach Woodson has talked about how integrating Bargnani was a process, and that the Italian would eventually contribute, and on a night where J.R. Smith struggled with his shot again (4/16), it was Bargnani who stepped up to the plate.

One of the reasons the Knicks traded for Bargnani was his ability to stretch the floor, which he did on Thursday, knocking down all three of his long-range attempts.

After the game Woodson acknowledged Bargnani’s presence on both ends of the court.

“I thought he played his butt off,” said Woodson. “We protected him early to prolong the game, but then we let him play. He got a couple charges on him [Howard], got a block. He was solid.”

Anthony agreed with his coach.

“I thought [Bargnani] did a great job defensively, staying in front of him, taking charges, making it tough on him,’’ he said.

Bargnani got off to an inauspicious start to his New York career, missing his first four shots as a Knick, but has been showing marked improvement since then – so much so that he has become the team’s most consistent second option in the last four games averaging 21.3 points per game in that period. In addition to that he’s shown some life at the defensive end as well. His defensive effort on Howard followed his 5 blocks against the Bobcats last week, and 11 rebounds versus the Hawks on Wednesday.

Bargnani said it was just a case of needing to get in rhythm with his teammates.

“It was a process,” said the Italian. “Obviously changing team, I got more aggressive every game. Everybody helped me out, everybody tried to push me to play my game; to be aggressive on the offensive end.”

Point guard Raymond Felton praised his teammate’s effort playing at center.

“He’s been looking real good,” said Felton. “We’ve been taking advantage of him at the center spot right now, and centers can’t guard him on the perimeter. . . . That’s been working for us.”

The Knicks are committed, for the moment, to starting Bargnani at center until Tyson Chandler returns in about 5 weeks. The magnifying glass is now upon Bargnani even more. He still has his doubters, in New York City they’ll always be there, but he has shown in the past four games why the Knicks traded for him from Toronto.

They’re hoping it continues working for them.

 

Image via: Simmons, Howard/New York Daily News

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