Knicks Channeling Their Inner Zeppelin

Perhaps you heard me paraphrase the title of a famous Led Zeppelin song in the segment above on the Ford Knicks Post Game highlights from the 91-87 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday night. There was a Whole Lotta Lob for the Knicks.

What stuck in my head for the rest of the show, aside from Jimmy Page’s repetitive power chord (which anyone who had their hands on a guitar in high school learned how to play), was Robert Plant’s echoing lyric: Waaaay down inside…

The Knicks are putting a much greater emphasis on the inside game, which has been the most encouraging sign of all over this three-game winning streak. Sure, two of the wins were the result of missed three-pointers by the opponent in the final seconds and the offense is still having issues with consistency, but let’s agree that the game against the Bobcats should have been easily put away had it not been for suddenly ice cold shooting (4-for-19 in the fourth quarter).

And now let’s examine the progress being made:

The Knicks recorded 44 Points in the Paint in the win over Charlotte. They had 50 Points in the Paint against the Pistons. For the season, the Knicks are among the lowest scoring teams in Points in the Paint, with 38.7 per game. But over their last four games, the average has grown to 46.7, which would rank among the top in the NBA.

That’s more like it. I mean, if you’re a team that boasts one of the best collections of frontcourt talent in the league, your emphasis should be in the paint.

So since the maddening three-for-all in the Jan. 2 loss to the Raptors, which resulted in 35 attempts from downtown and just 28 Points in the Paint (on 30 attempts), the Knicks have put much more of a concerted effort into getting, as Plant sings, way down inside.

The offense has developed with more backscreens, backdoors and alley-oop plays to get the bigs involved with better movement so to take advantage of this great three-headed frontcourt monster the Knicks have. Tyson Chandler has been the beneficiary of this New Lob City mentality, especially in the Charlotte win with 7-for-8 shooting, all on very high-percentage shots: dunks and oops.

By the way, can the great MSG video production people get Guy to remake their theme song for New Jack City? Or maybe Ice-T can remake “Hustler” (Iman’s theme), which is another great song off that soundtrack? H-U-S-T-L-E-R, hustluhhh

Even with Chandler’s rim shots, there is no one Knick who has been more emblematic of the focus on working the inside job than Amar’e Stoudemire. We’ve been critical of his perimeter predilection early this season, but since he returned from the ankle injury, Stoudemire has reintroduced himself with the painted area.

According to HoopData.com, Stoudemire took a season-high 12 shots “at the rim” against the Bobcats and is now attempting 8.5 shots at the time per game. In his first three games, he attempted just 3.6. As we outlined in theKnicks Fix segment on Knicks Game Night, he averaged  6.2 “at the rim” attempts per game last season.

Earlier in the year, Stoudemire was spending an inordinate amount of time outside of 16 feet — 6.3 attempts per game — and that has decreased slightly to 5.2 attempts per game outside of 16 feet since he returned from the injury. It’s not that he should stop shooting perimeter shots — on the contrary, he’s developed a nice mid-range touch — but early in the season he wasn’t attacking the basket, which has always been his strongest attribute.

Perhaps guard play had something to do with it, too. The emergence of rookie Iman Shumpert has made a noticeable difference in the offense, just on his dribble penetration and impressive court vision alone. Shumpert makes quick decisions and finds cutters, which is how Stoudemire generates offense. He is not a scorer like Carmelo Anthony, who can create for himself off the dribble or the post-up. Stoudemire is devastating as a finisher in pick-and-rolls and cuts and that’s what is starting to come back again.

Perhaps he needed the break when he went down with an ankle injury. Since his return, Stoudemire is averaging 23.7 points and 11 rebounds per game. He’s also attempting 8 free throws per game, which is another sign that he’s working inside more. The one issue that remains for Amar’e is his shooting. He’s at 41.8 percent on the season and 42 percent in his last four games, but that part will come.

The good news is he’s back to being Amar’e Stoudemire.

KNICKS NOTES

• How much better is Landry Fields with Shumpert on the floor? You see signs of his All-Rookie season starting to return when he runs hard down the court to fill the lane on the break with Shumpert. Fields said over the weekend that he feeds off of the rookie’s energy and intensity. We know Landry is not the standard shooting guard in this league who can create for himself in the halfcourt and run off screens for jumpers, but with Carmelo and Amar’e on the floor, he doesn’t have to be a scorer in the traditional sense. He can be very effective as an intangibles player who finishes on the break and makes smart, hustle plays.

• And I saw some of you on Twitter and Facebook criticize Fields on the Bobcats’ final shot, which came from an open look by D.J. Augustin. What you need to realize is that Boris Diaw, who had been lighting it up all night, had an open look and with Stoudemire getting back late, Fields made the right play by getting a hand up on a potential shooter. He forced a pass with seconds ticking down, which led to Augustin somewhat rushing his look.

On that play, Amar’e doubled Augustin on the inbounds, but then lost Diaw in transition. Fields, in my opinion, made the right play.

• Shumpert’s knee is fine, he informed everyone after the game. The issue is his muscles in the right leg cramped up yet again late in the game, which has led his veteran teammates to inform him of such technology a, you know, water. Maybe Amar’e can slide the rookie some of his ZICO Coconut Water, which is one of the many products he sponsors.

•  Mike Bibby played just 6:16 in the game because of an issue he was having with his knee. The absence of Bibby’s hot three-point shooting over the previous two games (7-for-8 from downtown) could explain some of the team’s paltry 1-for-10 effort from three-land against the Bobcats.

• Tough times for Toney Douglas, who, as the Post‘s George Willis wrote today, doesn’t deserve the boos. “If I’m on the court, I don’t make excuses,” he said, regarding hints that perhaps his surgically-repaired shoulder is a bigger issue than we know. “It is what it is.”

• The question, of course, is what happens to Toney’s minutes when Baron Davis is ready to play? Bibby’s three-point shooting is valuable off the bench and if you move Shumpert to a third guard role, there aren’t a lot of minutes to go around in the rotation.

• Speaking of which, as reported by ESPNNewYork.comMike D’Antoni gave an update on the Baron Davis Watch, saying the veteran guard could be ready to play “the end of January, more or less.” He has been doing some light shooting and is slowly increasing the intensity of his workouts. The main focus, along with keeping the back strong, is to get him in the best condition possible so he doesn’t have any setbacks.

• And finally, we have to note that D’Antoni said after the Bobcats win that his team is not very confident “especially at home.” That points to the pressure that some players — I don’t believe he’s referring to the stars — feel as The Garden faithful gets easily frustrated by mistakes and poor play (the boos were loud when Charlotte took a 10-0 lead).

•  Melo spoke Monday morning about returning The Garden to an atmosphere where teams didn’t come in excited to play there, but instead intimidated. But home court advantage develops with success on the home court. It’s definitely time to take back the stage and the defensive intensity the team has played with over the last few games will go a long way in getting there.