Now that the reinvigorated Knicks (23-24) have played themselves back into playoff contention, it’s fair to wonder just how high they can climb before the regular season ends on April 26th. If the playoffs were to begin today, New York would be the Eastern Conference’s 8-seed, edging out the Milwaukee Bucks (21-25) by 1.5 games. Any meaningful look into the crystal ball, however, requires us to revisit the past.
Notwithstanding the undulations of this unprecedented roller coast ride we reluctantly boarded back on Christmas Day, an unrelated, yet oft-recurring theme has also reared its ugly head — one that any long-suffering Knicks fan is all-too-familiar with — the team’s inability to put away inferior competition.
It seems like January and February were so long ago — Mike D’Antoni’s mustache was at least 3 shades darker — when New York dropped games against the likes of Toronto, Charlotte, Phoenix (losers of five-straight at the time), Cleveland, New Orleans, New Jersey and the aforementioned Bucks. Those seven losses, against teams with a collective .351 winning-percentage (110-213), now loom very large, not only relative to whether or not the Knicks qualify for the postseason, but also if they are destined for a first round matchup with Conference-leading Chicago or Miami.
If the ‘Bockers had simply taken care of their business — and won four of those games — they’d now find themselves virtually tied with Atlanta (27-20) for the 6-seed, and incredibly, just 2.5 games back of Orlando for the 3-seed. And yes, if Carl had simply shot that quicksand-bogged zombie in the forehead, Dale would still be alive, but that’s besides the point.
So what happens next?
Taking a look at New York’s schedule — they have 19 games remaining, including tonight’s tilt against the Raptors — it is hard not to be at least a little bit pessimistic about their chances, despite indications during their recent five-game winning streak that the Knicks are starting to figure things out.
Mike Woodson’s club has six games left on the March-docket, @TOR, vs. DET, vs. MIL (potentially season-defining), vs. ORL, @ATL (also critical), and vs. CLE. If the Knicks are who we thought they were, then anything less than 4-2 over this stretch would surely have to be considered a disappointment, especially in light of what April holds in store.
From April 3rd to April 17th, the Knicks play @IND, @ORL, a home-and-home set against CHI, @MIL, vs. WSH (their only “gimme”), vs. MIA and vs. BOS.
Those eight games, Ladies and Gents, are likely to define the 2011-2012 Knickerbocker-season. Simply going .500 would be a real accomplishment, and unfortunately, due to the tremendous hole the team has put itself in with its early-season malaise, accomplish these Knicks must (oh, Yoda, you always know just what to say).
Admittedly, New York’s schedule gets decidedly easier after that, with winnable games against the Nets, Cavaliers, a suddenly-staggering Clippers team, and a home affair versus the Cavaliers to close out the regular season, but it would be pure folly — given the Knicks’ history against dreadful opponents — to rely on that stretch to guarantee playoff qualification or seeding.
No, New York instead must get it done against the teams that they hope to face in the postseason, which will not only will assure them of making the tournament, but also prove to themselves in the process that they have what it takes to compete at the highest level.
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