Knicks Still in Good Shape as NBA Action Resumes
Heading out of All-Star weekend, the New York Knicks sit at 17-18 and hold tight to the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. For many die-hard Knicks fans, this scenario probably would have seemed unimaginable after the team’s thrilling victory over Boston on Christmas afternoon to kick off the season. The arrival of Tyson Chandler brought high hopes for the ‘Bockers, and nearly all pre-season predictions saw the Knicks competing for a spot in the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Yet early scoring trouble and stagnancy on offense, combined with a lack of rebounding and effort on the defensive end put the Knicks in an unexpected hole just 20 games into the season.
Until Linsanity struck, the team lacked energy, played undisciplined basketball, and neglected to move the ball on offense. Though far away, the idea of making the playoffs seemed increasingly Jim Mora-esque. But as we all know, in as unlikely a scenario as professional sports has ever seen, Jeremy Lin, the undrafted Harvard graduate living on his brother’s couch, lit up the World’s Most Famous Arena and reignited the New York Knicks just when they needed it most. With the Knicks on the verge of irrelevancy after an 8-15 start, the heaven-sent emergence of Jeremy Lin not only captivated the entire nation, but also put the Knicks back in the conversation as a legitimate playoff threat.
Although Lin has clearly experienced some growing pains over the 11-game span in which he has played significant minutes, as was evident last Thursday night in Miami, his presence on the court has been crucial. What is more concerning is the fact Melo and Amar’e continue to struggle to find any sort of consistent continuity on offense — something that must occur in order for the Knicks to have success this season. However, with the high-energy style of play brought by the arrival of J.R. Smith, and the veteran presence returned to the court by Baron Davis, Knicks fans should stay confident, as there is still much to hope for in the remaining 31 games. Here are a few key reasons why:
1. Nothing Insane About Linsanity
Jeremy Lin is the real deal. Turnovers have been his only real flaw so far, but this is something that would be expected from any point guard new to the league, especially one that has had limited practice time with the guys in the rotation. Look for Lin’s assist to turnover ratio to slowly climb up as the season progresses, with his points per game dying down slightly but remaining consistently productive. The combined presence of Stoudemire and Anthony on the court takes a lot of the pressure off of Lin to score, although his ability to penetrate aggressively will be key in opening up shots for Melo and STAT, as well as in his own scoring.
2. The 6th Seed is All They Need
If the Knicks make a run in the second half of the season and take over the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, look out. The Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are far and away the best teams in the conference, so avoiding a first round match up with either of those teams is crucial. With a healthy team jelling on offense, the Knicks might be the next most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. The mere 6 seed secures the Knicks a reasonable first round match-up and if they get hot at the right time, a playoff run is certainly plausible. The good news is New York is currently only 3 ½ games behind Atlanta for that critical 6 spot, a margin that is by no means insurmountable.
3. The Energy Will Come Back
The Knicks looked like a tired team heading into the All-Star break, so this recent time off to refuel and refocus should help. The next few weeks also bring about the first stretch all season in which the team will be playing at full health, and with a rotation that now goes nearly 10 deep, it is unlikely that starters will ever need to play 40+ minutes per game. The youthful and energetic presence of Jeremy Lin on the court, combined with some exciting new bench production has the potential to revitalize the recent sluggish play of Amar’e Stoudemire and propel Carmelo Anthony out of his month-long shooting slump. Plus, with the spotlight back on New York, MSG is sure to be packed and rowdy for the rest of the season.
Bottom line: the New York Knicks still have the ability to make some serious noise in the East and return excitement to the Mecca of Basketball, as long as they come out firing right away. We’ll see what happens on Wednesday night when the Knicks are back in action.