(Photo by Andrew Berstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
When people talk about how well the Knicks have been playing, a common response is that “they have had the easiest schedule in the league, their record is not impressive.”
The Knicks sit at 21-14 on Jan. 8 and hold the sixth seed in the East. They are seven games out of first, but only 2.5 out of the three-seed.
Now let’s take a look at some games at the beginning of the season.
To start off the year, the New York Knicks won their season opener in Toronto. They got off to a great start and sparked optimism in all of their fans’ minds.
Following the Raptors game, the Knicks played in Boston and came up a little short. They were down 11 with 2:11 left in the game and managed to pull within two with 17.5 seconds left, but their comeback was facilitated too late.
A win at Boston in the second game of the season would have been sweet, but they couldn’t pull it off. In the loss, the Knicks showed that they had the skill and the fight needed to win and compete with talented teams. This fight that they displayed, managed to get the Knicks fans pumped up for the home-opener against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Knicks came out flat and this got them into an early eight-point hole. They managed to fight back in the second quarter and pull within one at halftime. They were able to acquire a large lead in the fourth quarter, but a 9-0 run by the Blazers diminished this lead. The Knicks fell apart in the fourth quarter and gave up a game that should have been a definite win.
After two disappointing losses, the Knicks came out firing in Chicago. Hitting 16 of 24 from behind the arc, the Knicks beat the Bulls, 120-112. Coming into the season a large question mark for the Knicks to succeed was if their bench would be able to contribute.
This game in Chicago, in which the Knicks’ bench scored 55 of the teams 120 points, proved that the Knicks had talent on the bench to help out Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton win games.
In Washington, the Knicks continued their hot shooting. They shot 50.6 percent from the floor and 41.4 percent from three. Their bench continued to produce giving the Knicks 54 of the 112 points they scored. It quickly became evident that when the bench performed and gave the starters the rest they needed, the Knicks, as a team, played well.
After two games of sharp shooting on the road the Knicks returned home to face the 76ers. After witnessing the Knicks play on all cylinders, the Knicks hopefuls expected an easy victory at home and expected to see the 2010-11 Knicks.
Unfortunately, the Knicks of the past 10 years showed up. The Knicks kept it close down until the fourth quarter and that is when the 76ers took over. They exploited the Knicks lack of a finisher, and outscored the Knicks 26-15 in that quarter.
Currently the Knicks have improved their fourth quarter play dramatically and Amar’e Stoudemire leads the league in fourth quarter points. In this early game, the Knicks were still smoothing things out and hadn’t come together yet.
With today’s team, the 76ers game should have been an easy victory because of their ability to close out the game strong. Nonetheless, a loss like this one is inexcusable for a team that plans to go far in the postseason.
Following a disappointing loss, the Knicks traveled to Milwaukee to face the Bucks. From the start the Knicks were getting man-handled. Allowing the opponent to score 41 first quarter points is never acceptable. The Knicks seemed to have given up and didn’t fight, and lost this game by 27.
Sitting at 3-4 Nov. 9, the Knicks were playing average. They lost two close games, which they could have won if they had more experience together. And they lost one game where they failed to close it out in the fourth quarter.
I speculate that if the Knicks were able to finish the game against the 76ers strong, they would have entered Milwaukee with much more energy and played a close game. If the Knicks had some things go their way, and if the team had more experience playing together, there is no doubt that they should have been 5-2, if not 6-1.
After losing two disappointing games, the Knicks returned home to face Golden State. The Warriors played a high-paced game and the Knicks followed suit. Amar’e Stoudemire put in 33 points and 10 rebounds, but this was not enough to give the Knicks the win.
This shootout could have gone either way. The Knicks took 31 three-point shots and hit a dismal seven of them. With the memory of the three-balls sinking vs. Washington and Chicago, the Knicks continued to shoot even if they did not fall.
Had the Knicks decided to not rely on the three-point ball earlier in the game or if a few more had hit, the Knicks would have won this game. In the end, they lost by five, 122-117.
Now riding a three-game losing streak, the Knicks traveled to Minnesota to face the young Timberwolves. For the Knicks, this looked like the perfect opportunity to get back to winning. However, Kevin Love dismantled the Knicks.
For the first time in 28 years, Kevin Love posted a 30-30 game, he had 31 points and 31 rebounds. The Knicks had a 14-point halftime lead, and a 21-point lead with nine minutes remaining in the third. They let the Wolves come back and gave the Knicks fans yet another VERY disappointing loss.
Now at 3-6, the Knicks welcomed the 3-7 Rockets to the Garden. Once again, Madison Square Garden witnessed a horrendous loss due to an anemic fourth quarter performance.
The Knicks at 3-7 now faced a tough West Coast trip. They lost games that they should not have and after this stretch Amar’e and Raymond Felton took this on their back. They took full responsibility for all the actions and dedicated themselves to making the team better.
The team could have as easily been 6-4, as 3-7, but no one led this team. Stoudemire and Felton took it upon themselves and finally the team started to play.
To start their West Coast trip, the Knicks traveled to Denver to play the Nuggets. With all of the talk surrounding Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks, it was important for them to show that they were a different team this year. They needed to show that they were not going to continue to lose games in the fourth quarter, and that they were going to compete in the playoffs.
The Knicks came out fired up. They had four players score 20+, however, they found themselves down 12 heading into the fourth. Unlike previous games, the Knicks played their hearts out in the fourth. They out-scored the Nuggets by 10 and came up two points short of a gigantic victory.
Just like the Celtics loss earlier in the season, this game had fired up the team once again. They played with great enthusiasm and showed fight all the way through.
After the first 11 games, the Knicks stood at 3-8. Just as easily they could have been 6-5 or 7-4.
The Denver game fired the team up. Amar’e and Felton led the team on a five-game win streak in which they beat Sacramento, Golden State, LA Clippers and the Bobcats twice. Amazingly, they were back to .500 and back in the playoff hunt. A 8-8 record could have just as easily been 11-5 or 12-4.
After the five-game win streak, the Knicks came home and lost to the Hawks. The Knicks matched up poorly and did not execute well enough to win that game.
Once again, the Knicks were able to go streaking. They won 8 in a row and 13 of 14. In this new 8 game win streak they beat Detroit, New Jersey, New Orleans, Toronto twice, Minnesota, Washington and Denver.
The Knicks now miraculously sat at 16-9 and were now being talked about as one of the top teams in the league.
They lost two tough games to Boston and Miami. The Boston game could have VERY easily been a win. But it did not have to be. The game against Boston once again showed that the Knicks could compete with the elite teams in the league.
They made Boston play Knicks-style basketball and lost by two in a high-scoring affair (118-120). After these two games, the Knicks had an off-night and lost to a Cleveland team they should have obliterated.
They bounced back after that loss and beat two tough opponents in OKC and Chicago back-to-back. After beating two good teams, they lost to two good teams in Miami and the newly revamped Orlando Magic.
The Knicks did not let this two-game skid start a much longer losing streak. Rather, they used it to start a three-game win streak in which they beat Indiana, they beat the league leading Spurs and they beat the Suns on the road.
Now as we sit in early January and look back on the Knicks’ season, most Knicks fans are very happy about this team. They sit at 21-14 and they hold the sixth best record in the East. They sit at 21-14 and they hold the 6th best record in the east.
They have proven that they can compete with elite teams, and they have the firepower to blow out mediocre teams. Many people criticize the Knicks’ current record and their skill level because of their strength of schedule.
Look at their record however you like. You can see their record as it is, 21-14, or you can see it as 25-10. If you choose to see it at 25-10 and accept that four of the games that they lost in the early stages of the season should have been wins, you will probably now regard the Knicks as a top team in the East despite their “easy” schedule.
They would be 25-10, good for the third best record in the East and people would be talking about how far the Knicks can go, and rather than how the Knicks should be better. No matter how easy of a schedule the Knicks had, they have played very well this year and should be considered a team that could do damage in the playoffs.
It is important to regard the past but where the team stands now and to see how much better they have gotten from the beginning of the season to now shows how much more they can grow from now until the playoffs.
The Knicks are for real this year and, no matter the teams they played early in the season, they have showed that they have the skill and fight to contend with the elite teams in the league.