The New York Knicks have just five games remaining in their 2012-13 regular season campaign. Where the other 77 games went, we have no idea. Currently, the Knicks sit in second place in the East right now, having won 51 games, and they just locked up the Atlantic Division for the first time since the ’93-’94 season. With the playoffs right around the corner, a lot of different storylines are hanging over the Knicks’ collective heads.
To discuss this exciting time and the surely exciting weeks ahead, The Knicks Wall team sat down and answered some questions.
1.) The Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, and Boston Celtics are all jockeying for seeds 5-7 in the East. Who do the Knicks have the best chance against and why?
Scott Davis (@WScottDavis): I want no part of the Chicago Bulls in the first round, whatsoever. Though they’re a slightly bruised bunch as well, they’ve shown utter disregard at playing short-handed. Furthermore, they’re a step closer to sweeping the season series with the Knicks (and those first three wins came pretty handily). The thought of knocking out the Celtics gets my blood rushing, but they remain (cliche coming) a veteran team with experience. And I don’t trust Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to not pull a Tonya Harding on ‘Melo’s knee before Game 1. It seems that the best option is to hope to get the Hawks – a good team, but a team I feel confident the Knicks could be four times in seven games.
Jonah Kaner (@TheKnicksWall): While it would be awesome to defeat, better-yet, sweep, the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, I think the Knicks have the best chance against the Atlanta Hawks. Simply put, the Hawks don’t really have a go-to guy that they can rely on down the stretch of crucial games.
Steve Meza (@ecualibrium): Nothing would bring me joy more than eliminating Boston in a playoff series for undisputed supremacy over the Atlantic Division. The sweet glory of Carmelo Anthony performing a 40-point-per-game series-style exorcism, assisted by JR Smith and his catch-and-shoot holy water, on the green clad demon neighbors would be an ecstasy beyond belief. Alas, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and the bottomless wisdom pit that is Doc Rivers’ brain scare me enough to look elsewhere. Even lacking their granite faced star, the Bulls flaunt a defense so ferociously zany, it would serve the Knicks better to hope Nate the Great and company soften up the Heat for 6 games before the ECF. So, kinda by default: the Atlanta Hawks.
David Vertsberger (@_Verts): It’s got to be the Atlanta Hawks. The Chicago Bulls’ defense has stifled the Knicks to no end, enough so to keep New York from taking a win in the season series thus far. The Boston Celtics are still the Boston Celtics, and although they are a more depleted version of them, they still play with tremendous enough effort that no series they’re involved in will be an easy get-by. The Knicks have had an edge against the Atlanta Hawks all year, not surrendering a single game to them and matching up with them quite well. Tyson Chandler has done a terrific job defending Al Horford, and there’s no player on Atlanta that can hope to contain Carmelo.
Rami Levi (@RamiofTeaneck): Like many Knicks fans, I’m hoping the Knicks hold onto that 2 seed and the Hotlanta Hawks drop to 7. It has become blatantly obvious in the past couple of seasons that teams need a superstar in the playoffs. We have ours. The Hawks? While the Knicks have made Kyle Korver look like Larry Bird, and I’ll concede that Josh Smith is an above average player, the Hawks have nobody who can seize the collective hearts of Knicks Nation and eat them. Paul Pierce can do that. Without Rose, the Bulls don’t necessarily have a superstar, but they do play a brand of bruising basketball that tends to result in a barrage of Knicks Ts, not 3s. I am also scarred by soul crushing series losses of years past to the Bulls and Celtics. Give me the Hawks!
Tony Arnoldine (@tonyarnoldine): The Knicks have fared worst against the Bulls this year, going 0-3 vs. Chicago ahead of their Thursday night clash. The Bulls give the Knicks fits because they have a strong interior presence. The best matchup is probably Boston, thanks to Rajon Rondo’s injury and Kevin Garnett also being banged up.
Matt Clark (jmatthewclark): As much as I’d love to eliminate Boston from the playoffs in the first round there is only one team on that list I want to see: the Hawks. The Bulls are a well-coached, defensive juggernaut with some versatile scorers, and are possibly one healthy Derrick Rose away from being the 2-seed in the East. I can say the same about Boston. And Paul Pierce would probably still find a way to kill us! So, that leaves the Hawks and while Larry Drew has done a good job with that roster, they are still not a very good basketball team.
Bryan Gibberman (@Gibberman10): Out of the Bulls, Hawks, and Celtics, the team I am most comfortable with the Knicks facing in the first round is the Hawks. Despite the fact Atlanta has advanced to the second round in three out of the last five years, I don’t trust them in a playoff series. New York is 4-1 against Atlanta over the past two seasons.
Steve Scafidi (@Steve_Scafidi): All three teams would present a great test early in the playoffs. Boston, however, is not the Boston of years past. The momentum coming off a tough-fought series win beating the former rulers of the Atlantic Division could probably carry us all the way through the second round. Boston’s bench is pretty thin, and young, which will end up in more minutes on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The speed of the Knicks will probably be too much to handle in a seven-game series.
Matthew Bove (@RAYROBERT9): I would most want the Knicks to play Atlanta. I think the Knicks would beat Atlanta or Boston easily in around five games. The Knicks have beaten the Hawks twice this year and Melo scored 40 in both games, so clearly they have nobody to guard him. The only thing about the Hawks that scares you is that Jeff Teague is a quick point guard who can give the Knicks issues.
Eduardo Guerrero (@DannyG_NYC): Based on the regular season, I’d have to say the Hawks. Bulls have handled the Knicks pretty well while all three wins vs the Celtics came against battered Celtics squad (no Rondo for first win, no Rondo & KG in last two wins). It did take a fantastic game from Melo to beat the Hawks in MSG earlier this season, but the Knicks then took them apart in Atlanta. As long as Tyson and K-Mart are healthy come playoff time to hold down Al Horford, I don’t see the Hawks being much of a challenge to the Knicks.
2.) What is essential for the Knicks’ success going forward into the playoffs?
SD: I feel like I’ve seen this movie before. Carmelo Anthony’s right hand hot enough to fry an egg, the Knicks executing with machine-like precision, injuries slowly dwindling the ranks…. Things are kinda really great and really bad at the same time. Going forward, getting a player taller than 6’10″ back on the court (and healthy, too) is really important, as is the Knicks’ ability to drain three-pointers at a laughably insane rate. I’m scared to see what happens if the Knicks go through an ill-timed shooting slump. And don’t get me started with an injury to ‘Melo….
JK: Ball movement. This season, we’ve seen two completely different Knicks teams. One moves the ball around, the other doesn’t. The former gets pooped on, while the latter poops on opponents — It’s that simple.
SM: Health. The Knicks’ front line has been unmercifully ravaged by the injury bug. It’s been more like a locust-infested injury plague. On the flip side, the Knicks have been remarkably adept with the small ball lineups. The crisper ball movement and the reemergence of the 3-point weapon could motivate Woodson to throw Chris Copeland more minutes. That, and the fact that he really has no other choice at this point.
DV: It’s a multitude of things: stay healthy, don’t lose composure in physical contests, don’t iso-Melo your way through the offense, don’t try out any new lineups, play the ones that work well, like dual point guards and ‘Melo at the four. If a successful playoffs for the Knicks is getting out of the first round, then you don’t have to do all of these things. But if the standards are much higher, which I hope they are, all aforementioned keys are pivotal to having a great playoffs run.
RL: Obviously health is a critical factor when it comes to the Knicks’ playoff success. And yes, the belabored point of “they need to keep knocking down shots” holds true. But I firmly believe it comes down to composure. As we’ve seen throughout this streak, the Knicks are at their best during a blowout. The best player on the Knicks is their confidence. This does not happen in the playoffs. With exception of the occasional blowout, you gotta slog through a seven game series. Throughout the season, the Knicks have struggled in grind-em’-out-games…they lose their composure. If they can stay strong mentally, they can move on in the playoffs.
TA: The key to Knicks’ playoff success is their health and the continued high-level play of Carmelo Anthony. Melo is playing like an MVP and providing defense and rebounding along with his usual high-octane scoring. If opposing teams key in on Melo and slow down his offense, he can still make everyone around him better with great passing and drawing double teams. It will then be up to the perimeter scorers to hit shots.
MC: Health, of course, but the real key is going to be ball movement and the ability to catch and make three-pointers. I don’t need to revisit how deadly this team was in the first 25 games of this season or how good they are right now; but it all comes down to the ability to knock down open threes. In order for Melo to be truly devastating we have to always pose the threat that if you double him or collapse on him in the post, our shooters will make you pay. This gives Melo more one-on-one opportunities, and I’d argue with anyone about there being a better player in the league in that scenario.
BG: For the Knicks to have success in the playoffs it will be following the same pattern they did in the regular season – a highly efficient offense and an average defense. This blueprint got the Phoenix Suns to the Western Conference Finals in 2009-2010 and it can do the same for the Knicks this season.
SS: That has to be JR Smith. We all pretty much are assured Anthony will be locked and loaded when the playoffs get rolling—if Smith can maintain his efficiency and rebounding, it will be tough for opposing defenses to try and keep tabs on both Anthony and Smith.
MB: The Knicks need to be healthy first and foremost. Their last two postseasons have been derailed by injuries and it cannot happen again. They need to do whatever they can to get Chandler and Martin healthy. Secondly, they need to hit their threes, as they attempt the most in the NBA and hit on 37.7% of them. The majority of them have come in the flow of the offense this year and if playoff teams are taking them away they cannot force them. The offense is what has gotten the Knicks this far and will determine how far they go.
EG: Health. It’s seemed like everyone on the team has had to deal with injuries this season. Now that Tyson is banged up and with K-Mart hurting his ankle, the team needs to get as healthy as possible for the playoff. The pieces are in place for a deep run. They just need to stay healthy.
3.) How far is this Knicks team capable of going into the playoffs?
SD: It always depends on a number of variables: ‘Melo’s jumper, the health of the big men, efficiency of the offense, and obviously, the opponents. I feel fairly confident the Knicks could get past anyone in the first round. Assuming they play the Pacers in the second round… it could get scary. But the Knicks have generally persevered through injuries, and at their worst, they played slightly better than .500 ball. With a few lucky rolls, I could see this team making it to the Conference Finals. After a decade in basketball doldrums, that’s a successful season to me.
JK: Assuming the team is playing solid basketball (ball movement, knocking down threes, defense, etc), I see no reason for them to not get to the conference finals, setting up an interesting series with the Miami Heat. Should they get that far, I see the Knicks v. Heat series going 7 games, with the Knicks winning. As a Knicks enthusiast, Knicks in 6 over the Clippers.
SM: If the universe feels like blessing New York with a reversed 1999 Finals run campaign, when it seemed like the Knicks lost a player to injury in every round (seriously, the Knicks started CHRIS DUDLEY at center against The Admiral), the Knicks can bully their way to the ECF and potentially beyond. If Kenyon Martin, Tyson Chandler, and either Rasheed Wallace or Marcus Camby can return healthy and provide some staunch paint defense, I’m sure (or, I hope) Carmelo Anthony will oblige by putting on a net-splashing parade on the other end. Here’s to hoping.
DV: The peak is likely the Eastern Conference Finals. The Knicks can take on any team that isn’t in Miami, and if they maintain the second seed, they won’t have to up until round three. Once they get there, well, the season’s probably over. It’ll be a tight series – Miami won’t walk away easily like last year – but they will once again be victors.
RL: I’m having too much fun to let my overwhelming skepticism put a limit on this team. I have reason to believe they don’t even make it out of the first round. But you know what? 16 wins, and you call yourself a champion. The ‘Bockers are riding a 13-game winning streak right now – who’s to say they can’t do it in the playoffs? Nobody wants it more than a ring-less ‘Melo right now, and just maybe the basketball gods will smile on NY once more.
TD: If the Knicks are the No. 2 seed in the East, they should make it to the Conference Finals. Although the Pacers – the likely No. 3 seed – would give them headaches in the second round, the Knicks should be able to take them in a seven game series if they continue to play at the level they have been. All of this, of course, is dependent on everyone staying healthy.
MC: If K-Mart, Camby, and ‘Sheed can return from injuries and contribute, then we can beat the Heat. Grunwald and company built this team to beat Miami, and I believe that the big men are the crucial piece there. The Bulls showed the entire league how to beat Miami when they snapped their 27-game winning streak, and that is to be be bigger, tougher and more physical. If you can force their role players to make plays, you can beat the Heat.
BG: I think the Knicks’ ceiling is the Eastern Conference Finals. I do think the Knicks will put up a fight against the Heat, but in the end will fall short. New York matches up pretty well against Miami compared to others teams across the league because their offense has the ability to exploit Miami’s defense. In the end, going up against LeBron James will be too much to overcome.
SS: A realistic expectation would be the Eastern Conference finals if the Knicks stay on the level they’re on now. Indiana will most likely face New York in the second round – a team that has given them trouble all year. Our big men will need to be healthy for a deep run. Having our big men available at the same time would supply an endless amount of options for Woodson to use matching up against a big Indiana team, and eventually, Miami.
MB: The Knicks are capable of making the Eastern Conference Finals if they are healthy. If the Knicks were to lose in the first round, it would be a disaster, and a loss in the second round would be disappointing as well. If they make the Eastern Conference Finals, anything after that would be gravy. Is it impossible that they could beat the Heat? No, but obviously it’s not likely. The Knicks have played the Heat well this year; however, if Lebron James plays at the level that he has this season, there really is no beating them.
EG: Being that I think they’ll get the 2nd seed, I don’t see how the Knicks don’t get out of the first round. I don’t see the Bulls falling to 7th, so it’ll either be the Hawks or Celtics in the first round, and I believe the Knicks will beat either of them. As for the 2nd round, I can see the Knicks getting past either Indy or Chicago, but I can also see the other two advancing as well. The one advantage I do believe the Knicks have in their favor against Indy or Chicago is having Melo. The other two don’t have that guy who can get them a basket whenever they need on. To answer the question simply, I can see the Knicks getting to the Conference Finals….or losing in the second round.
Resting on the shoulders of an absolutely torrid Carmelo Anthony and a rejuvenated defense, the Knicks continued their hottest stretch in decades, winning their tenth in a row by using a dominant fourth quarter to blow up a close game. While neither New York nor Atlanta played their best basketball through the first three quarters, the teams went opposite directions in the final 12 minutes. The Knicks strung together several solid possessions on both ends of the ball, locking down Atlanta’s offense, and exploiting a defense keyed in on stopping Carmelo Anthony. Raymond Felton took advantage of this neglectful defense and repeatedly burned the Hawks in the pick-and-roll, getting to the basket for easy layups and organizing a Knicks offense that nearly doubled up the Hawks in the final quarter.
The Knicks opened the game in a little bit of a daze as they missed seven of their first eight shots, while Atlanta canned open threes, layups, and contested, improbable deep jumpers. Carmelo Anthony knocked down his first shot attempt, but struggled shortly thereafter, misfiring on some turn-around jumpers and failing to finish around the rim. J.R. Smith checked in early to give the Knicks’ offense a boost, but he, too, missed on several close attempts after working his way towards the paint off the dribble.
The Hawks, meanwhile, jumped out to a surprising 10-2 lead, before the fortunes switched. For Atlanta, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague, and Al Horford began to eat up a majority of the Hawks’ possessions, bricking routine jumpers close and far, and bricking bunnies at the rim. For the Knicks, after an initial slow start, both Anthony’s work on offense began to pay dividends as he found success driving to the cup for layups and fouls, and eventually began snapping the net on some pull-up jumpers and catch-and-shoot three-pointers.
After one, the Knicks led 23-18.
The second quarter didn’t find either team executing their best, either. Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith kicked things off for both teams with five consecutive points, respectively, both hitting on three-pointers and jumpers off the dribble. Shortly after, however, points became hard to come by. Kyle Korver oddly missed on his most wide open looks from beyond the arc while the rest of the Hawks’ thin bench failed to generate much offense at all. J.R. Smith continued to do the lion’s share of the work, but the Knicks had almost nothing to show for it.
As both starting units came back into the game with a little more than half the quarter remaining, the heat turned up again. Anthony promptly returned to disregarding whoever put their hands in his face, and was able to score on a variety of pull-up jumpers and aggressive takes to the basket. Korver made up for his misses from deep by exploiting a shaky perimeter defense and hitting jumpers off the bounce or just taking it directly to the cup.
While the Hawks’ offense was hardly scorching, the Knicks once again exhibited bad tendencies on switches and doubles, and just plain slow-footed defense on the perimeter that allowed the Hawks to get easy baskets when they actually executed. Also, once again, Knicks not named Carmelo Anthony failed to hit open looks they received from the defensive attention being paid to ‘Melo who remained blistering.
The Knicks, however, were still able to build their lead in the quarter – a testament to the Hawks’ general listlessness – and went into halftime leading 47-40.
The third quarter found Carmelo Anthony at his tip-toppest offensive form while the Knicks’ defense took a collective nosedive. Kyle Korver continued to be the Hawks’ only consistent form of offense, while everything on that end of the floor went through ‘Melo for New York.
Anthony kicked things off with an offensive rebound and layup after a missed three from Prigioni. He then operated in the pick-and-roll a bit and found Prigioni with a kick-out pass for an open three on the elbow. Later, Anthony welcomed Josh Smith and the Hawks’ sturdiest defense by simply netting difficult turn-around jumpers and splashing one- and two-dribble pull-up jumpers over out-stretched hands. Even when Smith managed to deflect the ball out of Anthony’s hands, he was able to regain possession along the baseline before it went out of bounds, and launch a 20-footer that didn’t even touch rim. 15 of the Knicks’ 21 third-quarter points came through Anthony, either by shooting or by passing.
The same lackluster defense remained for the Knicks, however, and Atlanta was actually able to work their way back to take the lead at certain points. Korver managed nine points, all on threes, in the quarter, and gave the Knicks, particularly Iman Shumpert fits, as he benefited from the space given to him off the Knicks’ needless switching and doubling. In one stretch, Shumpert left Korver open for a corner three, then proceeded to get blocked by Korver on a pull-up jumper attempt. Shump then rotated and closed out slowly on Deshawn Stevenson who scooped in for a layup and a foul on Kenyon Martin.
Jeff Teague and Shelvin Mack also gave the Knicks problems as they scooted into the paint and took advantage of the Knicks’ general lack of size down low (Chandler sat out for most of the quarter, appearing in pain). The two teams traded baskets back and forth, capped off by a stepback jumper from J.R. Smith to beat the buzzer and tie the game up at 68 heading into the fourth quarter.
Once again, heading into a pivotal final quarter, the Knicks pulled themselves together, this time basically running over the Hawks. It began with far more aggressive perimeter defense, and some handsy deflection and steals in the pick-and-roll, as seen the previous night in Miami. Felton (who’d been quiet heading into the fourth) picked Mack’s pocket and went coast to coast for a layup. Smith, sensing his size advantage on Atlanta’s smaller guards, went back to work off the dribble, and spun and twisted his way for some easy, close buckets. Careless passes coupled with a feisty New York defense led to copious amounts of Atlanta turnovers; the cough-ups just kept piling up and giving New York more chances to score.
While ‘Melo sat, Felton took the reins of the offense and punished a lackadaisical Atlanta defense. Three straight times, Felton squiggled his way through the defense off the high pick-and-roll and finished at the rim for mostly uncontested layups. Quickly, the Knicks built their lead up to eight. Then, Anthony checked in.
The Hawks’ defense was already spread thin, but Anthony’s presence only furthered their problems. After checking in and executing a post-up-spin-off-alley-oop with Jason Kidd, the Hawks focused their efforts almost solely on Anthony. The Knicks used this defensive attention to get Smith going. On one gorgeous sequence, Anthony sucked in the defense, threw a cross-court pass to Smith, who blew by the later-arriving closeout, and took it in for a two-handed jam.
The Knicks built up their lead to double-digits and were slowly able to ride the game out, punctuating it with a baseline jumper from Anthony that gave him a 40-point follow-up to his 50-point explosion the night before.
- Simply stunning work from Carmelo Anthony. In his last 81 minutes, he’s netted 90 points on 35-53 shooting from the field, almost all of those coming from outside of the paint. The man is in a rhythm like never seen before while he’s worn a Knicks uniform, and his offense has been good enough to carry the Knicks through some comatose starts. It’ll be interesting to see if ‘Melo can continue to get off to hot starts (he’s scored 81 of his total points in the first three quarters of the last two games), and attract opposing defenses so much that it allows other Knicks to get hot in the fourth quarter. It’s not an ideal attack, but there isn’t a hotter player in the NBA right now.
- To speak to the above point: Smith and Felton finished with a combined 33 points on 15-31 FG. In the fourth quarter they were a combined 9-11 from the field for 19 points.
- The buzzkill in all of this is that Chandler isn’t physically right, and now Kenyon Martin’s knee is “sore” which means he’s moments away from losing a lower limb entirely.
- Those fourth-quarter Hawks turnovers that I mentioned before – seven of them in the final 12 minutes. Some of it was pesky defense from the Knicks, some of it was carelessness from Atlanta.
- Tom Izzo randomly joined the ESPN broadcast in the second quarter and spoke pretty glowingly of about every person mentioned during his air-time. This was very different than what I imagined Tom Izzo to be like in person.
- Fun sequence in the 4th quarter: J.R. Smith fronts Josh Smith in the post, gets a steal, races down court, trips over his own feet, turns it over, DeShawn Stevenson picks up the ball, races down court, gets discombobulated between passing and dribbling, turns it over.
I’m not sure how I could handle a seven-game series between the two teams, but the Knicks, in both meetings, were able to out-execute the Hawks in the fourth quarter, and come up with the win both at home and on the road. If the two teams were to meet in the playoffs, as of right now, it’d bode well for the Knicks. New York will look to continue their streak when they face the Milwaukee Bucks at home on Friday.
Follow Scott Davis on Twitter: @WScottDavis
Tonight could qualify as one of those “ugly, grind-it-out” wins that are so often referred to when a basketball team squeezes out a victory by the skins of their collective teeth. Said games, however, are usually given such a description when both teams struggle to score the ball, and actually have to play ugly, hustling, desperate basketball in order to get the win. The Knicks and Hawks had to battle each other quite a bit tonight, but instead it consisted of two decent offenses going back and forth while the respective defenses played half-heartedly, with lackluster execution on both ends polluting the quality of play.
Mike Woodson and Larry Drew, the Hawks’ head coach, would probably both like their chances of getting a win if they knew their teams would shoot over 50% from the field and over 40% from three-point range. Instead, the outcome of the game hung in balance until the final buzzer. The Knicks used a heroic offensive performance from Carmelo Anthony, with some great bench production from J.R. Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire to make up for the fact that their defense begged the Hawks to take the game. A last-minute three-point play and a final stop (even with some poor defense) ended up tilting the game in the Knicks’ favor as they escaped with a win to move to 27-15.