Knicks Are Not Cruising Comfortably Towards Playoffs

Published on: 25th March, 2012

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New York – The New York Knickerbockers, in a serious battle for the last remaining playoff spot in the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference, are officially in playoff-mode, needing to treat every game and every possession like it’s their last. But, at a time when they should be racing to the finish line, they are instead, limping towards it.

With just 17 games left to this abbreviated, strike-torn NBA season, the Knicks, despite the gawdy 6-1 record they’ve put up for new coach Mike Woodson, are not firing on all cylinders. Struggling with injury, slumps, a completely overhauled coaching staff, and the requisite new offensive and defensive systems being installed with little practice time, they are not exactly a team gliding towards the playoffs on a streak of momentum.

In no particular order of importance:

The point guard position is a constant worry because of inexperience and infirmity. Jeremy Lin’s career consists of 30-odd games while former NBA star and current backup to Lin, Baron Davis is always one step away from another injury to his back or hamstring or any other body part, leaving him unable to perform and be a steadying influence on the young Lin.

Carmelo Anthony, the $18.5 million dollar man, is not playing up to his salary as a Knick but particularly so, since Woodson took over seven games ago. The career 24.6 scorer is  averaging 14 ppg in Woodson’s seven game tenure, while his rebounding has suffered as well, averaging 5.4 boards per game, down from a career-average of 6.3. He’s also shooting a very mediocre 39% from the field in those seven games. Not what you expect from your highest-paid player at a time in the season Woodson and his teammates need to lean on him and his long pedigree as a superlative NBA scorer.

Injuries are also taking their toll on this roster at the worst possible time as both Amar’e Stoudemire and Lin incurred injuries tonight against the Pistons.

Putting a damper on tonight’s 101-79 victory over the lowly Detroit Pistons and, some fear into the Knicks’ collective psyches was the condition of Stoudemire’s back. The power forward had to  come out of the game in the fourth quarter when his back started to give him trouble while Woodson removed Lin from the game after his knee began to hurt him.

Lin feels the knee pain is not going to be a problem.

“It’s a little sore from overuse and it was restricting me a little in the second half,” said Lin. “The doctor said it would be gone soon with rehab and exercise so I’m not worried.”

That’s easy for a player to say but knees have a way of re-occurring, especially when the pain comes from the dreaded wear and tear of overuse.

As for Stoudemire’s back, the first and biggest thought the organization surely had when Stoudemire removed himself from the game tonight was last year’s playoff series against the Boston Celtics, during which Stoudemire was rendered nearly useless because of the great pain he was experiencing in his back. Without a healthy Stoudemire, the Knicks were swept right out of the post-season, 4-0.

“Amar’e’s back stiffened up on him a little bit coming down the stretch,” Woodson said. “A lot of that has to do with the fact we’ve had seven games in 11 days and it’s been a grind. The schedule is not going to get any better.”

Another significant injury is the knee problem Jared Jeffries, the Knicks anchor of their defense, is now suffering from. At a time the Knicks need to make defensive stops against tough Eastern Conference opponents upcoming on the schedule, they will be without Jeffries for nearly the remainder of the season.

“We need Jared,” said Anthony. “Most importantly, right now, is for guys to be healthy coming down the stretch. If it takes him two or three weeks to get his body right, we support that. We are going to need him for the playoff stretch.”

Having dug themselves a bit of a hole with their poor play under former coach, Mike D’Antoni, the Knicks now find themselves mired in eighth place in the Eastern Conference of the National Basketball Association.

What is the significance of such a decidedly non-lofty position as eighth place? Well, it’s the final spot remaining, for one thing. The other aspect of finishing in eighth place is the not so wonderful prospect of playing the one seed, currently the Chicago Bulls, in the Eastern Conference standings. The Knicks would have to pull the upset of the ages to overcome the Derrick Rose-led Bulls in round one of the post-season tournament.

With tonight’s drubbing of a poor Pistons team, the Knicks record improved to 24-25. The additional good news tonight for the MSG inhabitants was Milwaukee, just a half game behind the Knicks in ninth place, took it on the chin tonight against the Indiana Pacers, giving the Knicks a little breathing room headed into their showdown with the scrappy Scott Stiles-coached Bucks this coming Monday night at Madison Square Garden.

“Monday’s game against Milwaukee is very important for us,” said Stoudemire. “We are trying to make a run and do something special this year.”

Every game they play from this point forward has just as much meaning as a playoff game, with the Bucks breathing down their necks from behind and the Celtics, just ahead of the Knicks in seventh place. There is no rest for the weary in the NBA of 2011-12, with its truncated 66-game schedule. The teams who can come down the stretch in good health and without the angst of figuring out new systems to play with will be favored in their playoff series. The Knicks are not one of those teams, at the moment.

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