NEW YORK — After his Carmelo-less New York Knicks put forth a valiant effort against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night, Mike Woodson fielded questions about Carmelo Anthony’s health.
“He’s day-to-day right now,” is all Woodson would offer. He would not rule Anthony out for Saturday’s home game against the Utah Jazz, but with the Knicks, we’ve seen and heard this before.
Rasheed Wallace was “day-to-day” for months, and now, the fractured fifth metatarsal that was recently revealed has probably ended his career.
So we must question just about everything the Knicks say.
And since this team has long ceased being the 18-6 juggernaut that we saw earlier this season, we must question everything they do. As we continue the march toward the playoffs and look back at the week that was, some burning questions have enveloped Gotham.
It does not sound like it is. Anthony had an MRI done and it showed no structural damage. His knee is “sore,” and he is “day-to-day.” The obvious concern, though, is that both Amar’e Stoudemire and Wallace were said to have non-serious injuries, as well. Stoudemire ended up missing three months, ‘Sheed can wave a towel in the playoffs if he chooses to stick around town.
That said, those who have seen and spoken with Anthony behind the scenes at the Garden don’t believe the injury is serious, and Woodson says Anthony may play on Saturday night. So, no — apparently.
Are the Knicks really a title contender?
Any questions as to whether or not the New York Knicks have what it takes to compete with the elites of the NBA over the course of a playoff series were probably answered with the club’s recent back-to-back home losses to the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Moral victories are the rationale of losers, so if Woodson really expects his team to compete for a championship, he should allow someone else to use Carmelo Anthony’s Thursday night absence as an excuse for the Knicks pissing away another winnable game to the team they could only hope to see again in June.
There is no shame in losing to either the Heat or Thunder. These two teams, after all, are the respective Eastern and Western Conference champions.
Unfortunately, there is shame in losing two winnable games on your home floor, and that’s true even though Anthony missed his second straight game with a knee injury.
Over the course of their 16-game win streak, the Heat have managed to pull out quite a few games that they appeared to have no business winning—one of them came at the expense of the Knicks.
The Thunder? They just so happened to overcome a combined 17-of-42 shooting effort by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, again, against the Knicks.
That’s the type of thing champions do, and the Knicks aren’t there yet.
If the Knicks are not “there,” where are they?
The short answer would be “in a good place.” As the Knicks get set to host the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, the team is 37-22 and the second ranked team in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks still lead the Brooklyn Nets by three games for the Atlantic Division title and are on pace to win 50 games for the first time since the 1999-00 season. That also happens to be the last time the Knicks won a playoff series.
If things break right, the Knicks could make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals and could have a shot at the Heat, once again. If, however, the brackets work out such that the Knicks would have to see the Boston Celtics or the Chicago Bulls in the first round, Anthony’s Knicks will probably be ousted in the first round for the third consecutive year.
If you are of the mindset that it’s NBA title or bust for the Knicks, you are probably in for a disappointing summer. If, however, you would be satisfied with the team winning a round or two in the playoffs and going down in a hard fought six or seven-game series, then keep watching, because that seems where this team is headed.
If the Knicks met the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, could the Knicks win?
Sure, they could win. But it’s not something anyone would be wise to bet on. Manti T’eo probably has a better chance of finding love on Match.com.
But, here’s a thought for Knicks fans. Way back in 2009, Dwight Howard’s Orlando Magic were one of the most improbable Eastern Conference Champions ever, but they won the conference because they were able to take advantage of LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and their biggest weakness—defending Howard.
Stan Van Gundy realized that if he pounded the ball inside to Howard on every single possession, neither Anderson Varejao (too small) nor Zydrunas Ilgauskus (too slow) could stop Howard in a one-on-one situation, so double-teaming was unavoidable for the Cavs. Van Gundy also realized that if he played Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, Mickael Pietrus and Rafer Alston with Howard, he would have a legion of shooters who could do something as improbable as connect on 41 percent of their 3-point attempts over the course of a seven (or in this case, six) game series.
So, the Magic let it rain. They made 10.3 of the 25.3 3-pointers they took per game.
For the Knicks, that is their formula for success. They have the shooters, but not the guy who can consistently cause the Heat’s defense to collapse and create the open looks for the shooters.
On some nights, an NBA team can live by the three. But even a cat with nine lives will be done in more times over by an over-dependence on the long ball. If the Knicks found a way to hit 40 percent for the series against Miami’s pesky perimeter defense, all bets are off. But it’s extremely unlikely.
In some ways, it is a bit comical for Woodson to start Kurt Thomas over Stoudemire. But more important than whether or not Stoudemire starts is whether or not he finishes, as Chris Sheridan brought up after the Heat game. And what’s most important is how many minutes Stoudemire plays with Anthony.
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