On Thursday night in Chicago, with 1.5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of a tie game, Carmelo Anthony received a picture perfect inbounds pass from Jason Kidd and launched one of his signature one-dribble 20-footers.
Beaten initially, Kirk Hinrich recovered just in time to get under Anthony and disturb his balance.
The shot was long, and the Knicks went on to lose in overtime at the United Center.
This is a scenario that could easily play out the same exact way when the NBA Playoffs begin next weekend. That it happened on Thursday night, in a regular season game, may be a blessing in disguise for the Knicks.
In the fourth quarter, even as the 3-pointers stopped falling, the Knicks managed to erase a 7-point deficit with just under three minutes remaining in the game, but Anthony’s game-winning shot missed and five-basketball minutes later, the longest win streak the franchise has enjoyed since 1994 was over.
It lasted 13 games and 24 days.
But what would be better than a 13-game regular season win streak would be a 13-game playoff win streak. And the only way that could happen is if the Knicks stay as far away from Chicago as possible, for as long as possible.
All things considered, the Knicks are putting the finishing touches on their most successful regular season in quite some time. But as great as the win streak was, in the grand scheme of things, nobody will remember it if the Knicks fail to make a deep playoff run. Two of Anthony’s self-stated goals for this season have been met. The Atlantic Division crown has been clinched and the Knicks have won 50 games.
The final one—advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals—will only happen if the Knicks and Bulls end up on opposite sides of the bracket, because the Bulls simply have the Knicks’ number and would defeat the ‘Bockers in a seven-game series.
Overall, the Knicks are just 3-10 against the Bulls since the beginning of the 2010-11 season and they have not defeated the Bulls in Chicago since Nov. 4, 2010.
Thursday night’s win against the Knicks gave the Bulls their first season sweep of the Knicks since 2004-05.
Granted, Anthony missed the first meeting between these teams back on Dec. 8, but in the three games he has played, he has shot a combined 37-of-91 from the field. That is 40 percent and the Knicks are just 11-7 in games when Anthony shoots that poorly.
As for J.R. Smith, he has fared even worse. In the four meetings combined, Smith has shot just 28-of-78 (36 percent).
Simply put, when the competition gets stiffer and when an opposing coach has the opportunity to watch film and make game-to-game adjustments, if he has capable perimeter defenders on his team, he can effectively scheme against the Knicks and turn Anthony and Smith into volume shooters who need to become volume chuckers to get their points.
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Tom Thibodeau is capable, and Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich are a defensively talented triumvirate that effectively blows up pick-and-rolls and stays in front of penetrators. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are great paint protectors and will only add to the difficulties the Knicks would face—and have faced—against the Bulls.