Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Knicks in the playoffs? It could happen!

The NBA season is almost halfway over, and the Knicks are still in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. This is a combination of the conference's ineptitude and the Knicks' solid play of late.

After ending the month of November with a 3-14 record, New York now sits 10th in the East at 15-22, just 1.5 games back of the final playoff spot. That's 12-8 in their past 20 games with some impressive wins mixed in (Phoenix, Portland and Atlanta on the road (twice)). That stretch also includes a 9-6 record in December, when Nate Robinson totaled more DNP's (14) than minutes (11).

Robinson returned with a vengeance in the Knicks' second win at Atlanta, scoring 41 points to lead them to a 112-108 overtime victory. The Knicks are 3-2 since Robinson's return to the rotation and his dynamic abilities will only help the Knicks down the stretch.

Starting tomorrow, the Knicks play their next four games against sub-.500 Eastern Conference foes Philadelphia, Toronto (who is in the playoffs), and Detroit for a home-and-home. Those are all winnable games, and maybe a win against the Raptors will convince Chris Bosh that New York may not be a terrible place to play next season.

Just because the Knicks have a shot at the playoffs does not mean they are a great basketball team. Out of the league's 14 best teams, 10 reside in the Western Conference and two of those teams won't make the playoffs, while as many as four teams with records below .500 could make the playoffs out of the East. I'm pretty sure we will be seeing Cleveland, Boston, Orlanda and Atlanta playing in the second round.

Even making the playoffs would be a huge step in the right direction for this team, who will be trying to attract a number of big-name free agents this summer (LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Bosh, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire, etc.). It would also guarantee them a first-round pick, since missing the playoffs would throw them into the lottery and any top-three selection would go to the Utah Jazz.

As if being 1.5 games out of the playoffs wasn't enough, the Knicks are just 3.5 games out of the fifth seed, currently held by Miami at 18-18. And according to ESPN's John Hollinger's playoffs odds, the Knicks have a 46.4 percent chance of making the playoffs based on simulations, eighth-best in the conference.

This season's Knicks are not the laughing stock they have been over the last few seasons. This team is playing well and, the way they launch three-pointers, has the ability to beat anybody on any given night. Phoenix had the best record in the West when they visited the Garden in early December, and the Suns left with the taste of a 27-point defeat in their mouthes. At the very least, at least the Knicks are fun to watch again.

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