Five Reasons the New York Knicks Face a Steep Climb in the NBA Playoffs
By Brendan McNamara
With a little over a month remaining in the 2013 NBA season, the New York Knicks have had a tremendous year, making basketball relevant while making their way to a championship. MVP discussions surround Carmelo Anthony and the team as a whole.
The Knicks seemed to be a lock for a top three finish in the Eastern Conference with an Atlantic Division title, as well. Unfortunately, it seems that the best part of the Knicks’ season may be behind them. Here are the top four reasons the Knicks and their fans have reason to worry about a quick exit in the upcoming 2013 playoffs.
1. First-round match-ups
With the season winding down, the Miami Heat looks to have almost solidified the top spot in the Eastern Conference, leaving the Knicks and Pacers locked in a battle for the second and third playoff seeds, respectively. The projected first-round match-ups between the Bulls or the Celtics could leave the Knicks as the victims of a first-round upset.
Following starting point guard Rajon Rondo’s ACL tear, which caused many to write off the latter team, the Heat have proven they can play through the adversity, excelling in such hostile arenas as Madison Square Garden. With veterans Paul Peirce and Kevin Garnett playing well, this could be one of their last opportunities to win another title together.
This places the Knicks, with only one win in Boston during the big three era, in a risky position, especially if the Celtics steal the home court advantage with a road win in the first round.
Meanwhile, the Bulls have outplayed and won all of their games against the Knicks this season. The ensuing confidence may give the veteran team an edge in the first round of the playoffs. Furthermore, the Bulls’ MVP point guard, Derrick Rose, could suit up for the first time before the playoffs start, making them a dangerous and formidable opponent.
2. Carmelo Anthony’s playoff track record
Carmelo Anthony has experienced success since being picked third overall in the 2003 NBA draft. He has taken the Nuggets to the playoffs every year since he’s played with them and given the Knicks consecutive playoff berths in his first two seasons. However, Anthony’s post-season struggles are well known. Only once in a nine-year career has he been able to get past the first round of a playoff series.
Thus far, Anthony’s playoff struggles with Denver have followed him to New York. Thanks in part to losing two starting point guards and suffering untimely injuries, Anthony has compiled a mere 1 and 8 playoff record with the Knicks. As fans try to forget the debacle of the last two playoff series, it’s fair to wonder whether history will repeat itself. Carmelo’s underwhelming performance on Monday night against the Golden State Warriors, his first time back on the court since suffering an injury, was certainly not encouraging.
3. Freak injuries to Amare Stoudemire
Many were wary of Amare Stoudemire’s injury history when the Knicks signed him to a five-year contract following the 2010 season. Aside from a healthy and productive first season with New York, Amare has had a hard time staying on the court. Over the course of his career, he has undergone back surgery and had his right retina removed, among other injuries.
Some of Amare’s strangest injuries have come at the worst times. With the Knicks down one game against the Celtics in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, Amare was forced to leave the court after tweaking his back while dunking during the pregame warm-ups. The Knicks were dealt another blow when Amare missed a playoff game against the Miami Heat after punching a fire extinguisher. With this track record, Knicks fans are justifiably concerned about whether Amare Stoudemire can make it on and off the court in one piece during the playoffs.
4. Second half struggles
The Knicks have some of the oldest players in the NBA. They started the season shorthanded, with Iman Shumpert and Amare Stoudemire both injured and not likely to join the team until January. The Knicks, aided by MVP play by Carmelo Anthony, opened the 2012 season strong, dominating teams in the Eastern Conference, and posting an 18 and 5 record, punctuated with 2 20-point wins against the reigning NBA champion, the Miami Heat. With these and other victories under their belt, the Knicks quickly emerged as realistic champion contenders.
Alas, following Iman Shumpert’s and Amare Stoudemire’s returns, the team’s age began to show. The Knicks went 13 and 10 in January and February with 2 3-game losing streaks,(http://www.nba.com/knicks/schedule), falling far from their position as challengers to the Miami Heat for the Eastern Conference finals. The Knicks still have time to right the ship and play their best basketball in the coming months, but this kind of mediocre play won’t get the Knicks far in the playoffs or even past some teams in the first round.
5. Lebron James and the Miami Heat
An appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Knicks this season would be a huge accomplishment for a franchise that last played the Eastern Conference Finals in the ’93-’94 season (http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_1994.html). The team has played well against the Miami Heat three times this year, beating them twice, including in Miami. But in a playoff series, especially in the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s hard to see the Knicks as having the advantage.
Unlike the Knicks, the Heat have been virtually unbeatable in the second half, with a franchise record winning streak and Lebron James closing in on his fourth MVP award. The Heat are on a different level from any other NBA team, with match-up problems all over the court for the Knicks. Lebron James’ play on both sides of the ball of late has earned him comparisons to some of the greatest NBA players of all time. The Heat are favored to return to the finals for a third straight season, in the process ending a Knicks season that started off with so much promise.