posted 2012-04-25 22:25:47

Knicks Need To Gel, Again

Heat or Bulls await in playoffs

Arthur Kapetanakis

Sports Editor

With their April 20 loss to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers, the Knicks have locked themselves into a seventh or eighth place finish in the East and a first round playoff matchup with either the Miami Heat or the Chicago Bulls – the Eastern Conference’s top two teams. While simply making the playoffs will come as a relief to many Knicks fans, players and staff, doing so as such a low seed could spell disaster.

With Dwight Howard’s recent season- ending injury, it seemed that New York had an outside chance to pass the Magic for the East’s six seed and a first round matchup with the very beatable Indiana Pacers. But now, it is a matter of pick your poison for the Knicks with Miami and Chicago.

The best basketball of the year from New York’s perspective came in the week or two after Mike Woodson took over as head coach. The stretch was highlighted by back-to-back wins over the Pacers and a hard-fought crunch-time win in Philadelphia against the division rival 76ers. During this period, the Knicks had a healthy Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin. Not only that, but Stoudemire was playing his best basketball of the season. Though the max-contract big

man had struggled on both sides of the ball for much of the season, he found his rhythm during that mid-to-late March run. Stoudemire’s improved play, along with the freshness of Woodson’s approach to coaching, had everything going right for the Knicks for the first time since Linsanity began.

But then, just as Knicks fans were becoming accustomed to seeing Stoudemire dominate on a nightly basis, news broke that the forward would be out for a month with a bulging disk in his back. That literal and figurative backbreaker was compounded by a season-ending injury to Jeremy Lin that was officially announced a few days later. So soon after riding high with their new coach, the Knicks were back in the dumps, missing two of their best players for the stretch run of the season.

Many experts questioned whether or not New York would be able to hold it together and make the playoffs. But Carmelo Anthony put the team on his back – offensively at least – and the Knicks managed to clinch a playoff spot with four games left in the season. Better yet, Stoudemire is back on the court. Although the Knicks struggled against Cleveland in Stoudemire’s first game back, there is still a week to make adjustments and reintegrate the big man into the lineup.

Of course, it’s certainly not an ideal situation. After a few more regular season games, the Knicks will find themselves in a battle against one of the best teams in the NBA. The general sentiment is that it would be better to play the Bulls in the first round because their star player, Derrick Rose, has been out for much of the second half of the season, and like the Knicks, the Bulls are struggling to readjust their game plan to accommodate the superstar. But still, the Bulls have plodded their way to what is currently the NBA’s best record even without Rose.

The Heat, meanwhile, have the infamous big three in LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. After a brief rough patch in their season earlier in April, the Heat are once again rolling and have won five straight games as of April 21, including an 11-point victory over the Bulls.

While Miami and Chicago battle for the overall number one seed in the East, the final games for the Knicks and the 76ers will determine who finishes seventh and eighth in the conference. When the playoffs start, the one seed will play the eight seed, and the two seed will play the seven. It is all up in the air at the moment, so there is little point for any team to tank their remaining regular season games in an effort to matchup with a particular team in the playoffs. For the Knicks, the ideal matchup with the third seeded Pacers is already out the window.

New York can only use their remaining games to try to get Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, and the rest of the team on the same page before the playoffs begin on April 28. They’d better hurry.