That is all that remains of this lockout-shortened season. 13 games for the New York Knicks (27-26) to clinch their second consecutive playoff birth. 13 games to crash and burn under the weight of injurious expectations. 13 games for one Brooklyn-born superstar to “do this.”
Because “when you play the Game of
Thrones Unknowns, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
So where are we? If you don’t have HBO, then you’ve probably already surfed on over to some other website by now, but if you have any idea where I am going with this, then you must be aware that the Knicks maintain a 2.5 game lead over the Milwaukee Bucks (24-28) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
That much is known.
What remains unknown is just what will transpire over the next two weeks, particularly in light of the fact that Jeremy Lin (knee) is now gone for the remainder of the regular season — his surgically repaired meniscus may be healed by the time the second round of the playoffs arrive — and Amar’e Stoudemire (back) isn’t expected to return until the first round of the playoffs, at best, should the Knicks even qualify for the postseason tournament. This fortnight, starting with tomorrow night’s tilt at Indiana, will surely define the Knicks’ roller coaster season; a season that has been as unpredictable as it has been unprecedented.
The current standings tell us that an Atlantic Division title is likely out of reach for New York. Not only are the Knicks 3.5 games behind division-leading Boston (30-22), winners of five-in-a-row, but the ‘Bockers also trail Philadelphia (29-23). On the bright side, the Celtics do have the conference’s toughest remaining strength of schedule, but unfortunately, the Knicks will face the second-most difficult slate of opponents. As such, even if New York was healthy, it would probably be a tall order to leapfrog both the Celtics and Sixers with so few games left in the season. Again, they would not be in this situation had they simply taken care of business back in January and February.
Which brings us back to everyone’s favorite lighting rod, Carmelo Anthony. They say that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, but when it comes to #7 — who has borne little resemblance this season to that other King, he of House James, who the former has so often been linked to and compared with — we are still waiting to see if ‘Melo’s “homecoming” coronation was grounded in hype or reality. Recent indications are that Anthony fully comprehends the magnitude of what is required of him — his play of late has been outstanding (27.0 PPG on 47.9% shooting and 7.5 RPG) — and the Knicks will need him to replicate that effort every single night.
Things weren’t supposed to be like this.
Rookie Iman Shumpert and enigma J.R. Smith weren’t supposed to have gone from X-factors to indispensable cogs. Baron Davis‘ beard wasn’t supposed to be logging 30+ minutes-per-game. The words Toney and Douglas weren’t supposed to be synonymous with “meaningful” and “minutes.” It matters not. These are the soldiers who will be relied upon to ensure that this tumultuous season will not go down as yet another wasted opportunity. These men — and men like Tyson Chandler and Steve Novak — are expected to rise to the occasion, to step up in the absence of their wounded-brethren.
Of course, such is life when two of your starters go down to injury late in the season and your team has endured the slings and arrows of the most remarkable three-month stretches in league history. Lin or no Lin, Amar’e or no Amar’e, there will be no justifiable excuses and there will be no one to blame if things go awry. These Knicks control their own destiny and these Knicks are masters of their own fates. They need to seize the moment, much like that young whipper-snapper, King Joffrey once did.
Yes, the ninth-place Bucks have the second-easiest schedule down the stretch — second only to the Hawks, ironically; yet another team the Knicks would love to catch in the standings, ostensibly to avoid Conference-leaders Chicago and Miami in the first round — but I suspect the Knicks will do what is required, and qualify for the postseason [just barely].
Once they get there, of course, all bets are off — especially if they are without the services of Lin or Stoudemire. And would a competitive, yet futile showing against a superior team like the Bulls or Heat be enough to ensure that coach Mike Woodson is invited back next year?
It’s difficult to say, but as everyone knows, a Dolan always pays his debts. Just ask
Ned Stark Mike D’Antoni.
Have you heard about those Twitters? http://twitter.com/lohudknicks. Or else.