On Thursday night, the Knicks were without both Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler, but the Bulls were missing the aforementioned Noah and Gibson, so that is a wash.
On Twitter, after I mentioned that the challenge in Chicago was a bit of a test for the Knicks, I was told by many a Knicks fans that the game was irrelevant and that it did not mean anything. The sentiment is understandable, but no NBA team wants to go into a playoff series against a team that swept them in the regular season. Sure, that does not mean much once the playoffs begin, but anyone who thinks that players do not know which other teams have their number is fooling themselves.
I assure you, Carmelo Anthony knows that he has Kevin Durant’s number—he has beaten him 11 of the 12 times they have squared off as professionals—and he knows that the Bulls have been using the Knicks as punching bags since Anthony arrived in New York back in Feb. 2011.
Since Anthony’s arrival in the Big Apple, the Knicks are 1-8 against the Bulls.
When you consider that it is still possibility—even if a remote one—that Derrick Rose may return, what the Knicks should want is to not only avoid the Bulls, but that they end up on a collision course with the Miami Heat.
Ideally, for Mike Woodson’s team, the road to the NBA Finals would go through either Miami or Chicago—not both.
And if the playoffs began today, the road to the Finals would not require stops in both cities. The Knicks can only hope that it stays that way.
To maximize their chances of advancing to the conference finals and perhaps winning it, the formula for the Knicks is straightforward.
They need to finish the season as the second seed and even after Thursday’s loss, remain two games ahead of the Indiana Pacers, who are currently third. The Knicks host the Pacers on Sunday and can almost assure themselves of the second seed by defeating the Pacers at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks would then need the Bulls to finish as the fourth or fifth seed. The Bulls trail the Nets by three games for the fourth seed, so it is not likely that they will catch Brooklyn. But it is still possible for the Bulls to be overtaken by the Hawks and end up as the sixth seed. That is not good for the Knicks, because it means that they may see Chicago in the second round.
At this point, for the Bulls, every game counts. And after Thursday night, with the win over the Knicks, the Bulls are 1/2 game ahead of Atlanta Hawks for the fifth seed, and that is exactly where the Knicks should want the Bulls to stay. On the final day of the regular season, the Knicks will host the Atlanta Hawks, so they will have another opportunity—one way or another—to affect the Bulls.
It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
If the Bulls enter the playoffs as the fifth seed, their road to the Finals would probably see them play the Nets in the first round and—assuming the Heat defeat the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round—Miami in the second round.
Under the same scenario, for the Knicks to get to the Finals, they would have to play the Boston Celtics in round one, either Atlanta or Indiana in round two, and then either Miami or Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Of course, some assumptions are being made here, and getting past the Celtics in round one is not an absolute given. However, the Knicks have had recent success against the Celtics and won both meetings in Boston this season. The Celtics, while formidable, are an older club that is far less athletic than the Bulls. They also rank 29th in the league in rebounds per game and are far less proficient at blocking shots than the Bulls.
In some ways, life is unfair for Knicks fans. After going almost a month without a loss, this week’s discussion centers not on the positive, but the negative. Frustration here is understandable.
But the avoidance of simple facts is asinine. For true glory and satisfaction, a 13-game playoff winning streak would mean a lot more, and that the regular-season 13-game streak ended against the likes of the Bulls—who also ended the Heat’s 27-game winning streak, mind you—is no coincidence.
The Bulls, for a few reasons, are exactly the type of team that the Knicks should not want to play. Fortunately, after losing to them on Thursday night, the Knicks may not have to.
If things stay that way, that is good news for the Knicks and their fans.
Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops whose columns appear here on Tuesdays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton