Thursday, November 4, 2010

Playoffs a possibility for the Knicks?

I know, I know: It's only been four games. I must be smoking something because this is a blasphemous statement. But read through before you tell me I'm crazy.

The Knicks went on the road last night and beat the Bulls by 8. They had an 18-point lead at halftime and despite the somewhat close score, the game was never really in doubt (unless you're a cynical Knick fan that thinks they're going to lose whenever their lead is cut to single-digits in the fourth quarter; yes, I'm guilty).

But the Knicks just couldn't miss a three-point shot. They were 16-for-24 as a team last night including a much-needed 4-for-4 from Danilo Gallinari, who had yet to find his shooting stroke in the season's first three games. And they used this uncanny accuracy to beat a team many have predicted as a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference, albeit playing without big free agent acquisition Carlos Boozer.

Neither team seemed particularly inclined to play defense on this night, but what people who hate the NBA don't realize is that it's extremely difficult to guard beyond the three-point line when a team is making almost 70% of their shots from deep. And it's even harder to cover somebody with the quickness and ability of Derrick Rose, who has the ball in his hands most of the time the Bulls are on offense.

What you can take from what I've written so far: I think the Knicks can make the playoffs based on one good road game against a team that is projected to be great but was missing their second most important player. Sounds silly doesn't it? But it's really not.

Many had a pretty clear top four teams in the Eastern Conference heading into the season. The Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls were expected to be the frontrunners. Everybody was down on the Atlanta Hawks after their ugly playoff exit, so they were put behind these teams but still are obviously in the playoff mix. That's five "surefire" playoff teams in the East; can you name any others?

Cleveland, Milwaukee and Charlotte were the other three playoff teams from the East last season. Cleveland lost some guy named James, Milwaukee is off to a 1-4 start and the Bobcats have started 1-3. And for the record, no team that didn't make the playoffs last season is above .500 in the entire conference.

By my count, that leaves seeds 6-8 wide open for a team like the Knicks. Right now, I look at three teams besides New York who could take those spots based on my preseason thoughts and my thoughts four games in. The 2-2 Pacers, the Bucks and the Bobcats.

Cleveland, Detroit, New Jersey, Washington and Toronto are all terrible. Philadelphia has a lot of talent on their roster but chemistry might be an issue, not to mention an overloaded stable of talented swingmen which could be a revolving door all season. Now does it make sense that the Knicks could make the playoffs?

Are they a 45-win team? No, but it will probably only take 40 wins to make it in the East, potentially a couple less. The Knicks have five players that can score 20+ points on any given night in Amar'e Stoudemire, Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Toney Douglas and Wilson Chandler; they have all done it at least once this season. And while defense may be a struggle at times, they say that sometimes the best defense is a good offense, right?

I will say that Stoudemire needs to cut down on the turnovers if the Knicks are going to make a push. He has 25 turnovers in four games this season, including three games with at least 6. It seems like he can't handle the ball being in his hands as much as it has been, since he's been used to playing pick-and-roll with Steve Nash for most of his career.

With the offensive talent on this Knicks team, it seems like Stoudemire may be better off playing within the offense rather than having the offense run through him. A lineup of Felton, Douglas, Gallinari, Chandler and Stoudemire has so much offensive firepower that Stoudemire can just get his in the flow of the offense.

With all this talk about offense, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention second-round pick Landry Fields, who has started for the Knicks and been an excellent glue guy. He has an NBA-ready game after four years at Stanford, plays good defense and makes all the hustle plays. Fields has been in the right place at the right time consistently this season and is the perfect fifth starter for this team, as he doesn't need the ball to stay in the flow of the game.

After the money the Knicks spent this offseason, it would be a disappointment if they didn't make the playoffs. And if they find a way to add Carmelo Anthony to the mix, they could even start to challenge the East's top five teams. Make your move, Denver, we want Melo!

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