By JOSH NEWMAN
Special to ZAGSBLOG
NEW YORK – The Knicks did not sign Kenyon Martin to a 10-day contract on Feb. 23 to be their starting power forward, nor did they sign the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft to a second 10-day deal on March 5 to anchor the frontcourt.
Still, by the time the Knicks signed the 13-year veteran for the remainder of the season on March 15, it stands to reason that no one quite saw what was coming, not after Martin had sat idly by without a job until the phone rang with the Knicks offering him a gig as an insurance policy.Speed ahead to Saturday evening and the Knicks’ 110-84 win over the Toronto Raptors at Madison Square Garden. The frontcourt is decimated by injury, Martin has been pressed into starting duty and he has not only played well, he has been a key reason why this Knicks team remains atop the Atlantic Division.
Coming into Saturday averaging 11.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 68.4 percent shooting from the field, Martin scored 18 points, hauled in seven rebounds, shot 7-for-11 from the field and provided his typical brand of high energy on both ends.
Despite playing without Amar’e Stoudemire (right knee debridement), Kurt Thomas (stress reaction in right foot), Tyson Chandler (bulging disk) and Rasheed Wallace (fractured left fifth metatarsal), the Knicks have won four straight.
Martin is giving them more than anyone thought possible, Carmelo Anthony is healthy after a three-game absence and there is once again a feeling around MSG that once the Knicks get a little healthier, big things might be possible come April and May.
“This is just the way I play basketball,” Martin said. “I was sitting home for a while, so I need to make sure I’m in shape, come in and not playing basketball for a while, I was able to avoid the wear and tear. I’m just picking my spots.”
What was a just a five-point game with 2:10 to play in the first half quickly turned into a rout thanks to the Knicks closing the half on a 9-2 run for a 59-47 lead at halftime. A 12-foot jumper and a 13-foot jumper on consecutive possessions from Anthony opened the run, five straight points from Martin closed it and a vicious block by Martin of a John Lucas III jump shot with 35.1 seconds to play highlighted it.
Martin’s play was so good in that second quarter, that the 98th consecutive sellout crowd at MSG began chanting Martin’s name in appreciation.
“That’s a great feeling,” Martin said. “It’s always a great feeling when they appreciate your craft. They love their Knicks, they appreciate people that play hard, that’s what they do. They’ll let you know when you’re not playing well, too.”
Chandler is considered day-to-day with the bulging disk and Knicks head coach Mike Woodson has not made it a secret that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year will slide back into the starting lineup when he’s ready.
“They’re similar in that they’re pick-and-roll guys, they’re defensive-minded guys, they can both block shots and they can both finish pretty well around the rim,” Woodson said. “If I bring Kenyon off (the bench), then it becomes a double-play. We don’t lose a whole lot there.”