No matter how long the Knicks extend their winning streak, one player will likely be overlooked by fans across the country.
That's because he's only averaging 3.3 points and 2.9 assists in 15 minutes per game this season -- and he's a 35-year-old rookie from Argentina.
But since Pablo Prigioni was inserted into the Knicks' starting lineup March 18, they haven't lost, as they've been averaging 104.6 points per game while holding opponents to 92.3.
Prigioni's biggest impact has come on the defensive end in first quarters. From the start of the season to March 17, the Knicks occasionally came out flat to start games, and they had an average first-quarter scoring margin of plus-0.1. But since the winning streak began, that number has climbed to a league-best plus-5.4.
Prigioni has made things much less routine for opposing starting point guards. He uniquely checks his man full court, turning a simple assignment -- bringing the ball up the court easily in a straight line -- into one that requires crafty, careful dribbling. He initiates playoff-like intensity from the get-go, which makes his opponent work extra hard and takes time off of the shot clock.
That tenacity has been contagious to his teammates.
"You've ever had like a gnat at a barbecue that just annoys you? Pablo is annoying on defense," Raymond Felton said recently. "He's been a guy that's really been kicking things off for us defensively in that first quarter."
Since March 18, opposing starting point guards have only averaged 3.3 points in first quarters. While two of them (Mike Conley and Russell Westbrook) scored eight points in the opening period, most had two or zero points and went on to sub-par performances.
During the winning streak, Prigioni has had four games with at least five assists, and he has only committed six turnovers. His pick-and-roll play has been efficient, and he's especially gifted at making swing passes off of screens to 3-point shooters in the corners. That court vision has led to more open shots and quicker ball movement.
"After the four losses on the west trip, we started to play better defense, we started to share the ball a little bit more and that gave us confidence," Prigioni said recently.
COPE-ACABANA: Chris Copeland has had plenty of quick offensive outbursts this season, like on Sunday (13 points in 18 minutes), but defense has been his main weakness. However, it was better in the Knicks' win over the Thunder, and he credits Mike Woodson for pushing him.
"I think I played my best defensive game yet yesterday," he said Monday on ESPN New York 98.7 FM radio. "I know I'm still going to make mistakes; I'm new in this league. But if [Woodson] wasn't so hard on me, I don't think I would've grown."
Copeland has also benefited offensively from being around Carmelo Anthony.
"Right before I go on the floor, he looks me in the eyes and says, 'Be aggressive. Do what you're supposed to do,'" Copeland said. "That's big-time motivating for me."
Copeland said the team is "peaking at the right time."
"[Oklahoma City] was a very tough team, on the road, playoff atmosphere," he said. "I think everybody was just zoned in, and that's the type of guys we have. We step up to the moment."
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