The same can be said for coach Mike Woodson.
However, after a heartbreaking one-point loss to the Washington Wizards on Friday night, the Knicks find themselves one game behind the Atlanta Hawks for the final playoff spot — and two games behind in the loss column — with only five remaining games.
Anthony’s desire to reach the postseason is understandable. Since entering the NBA as part of the heralded draft class of 2003, he has never missed the playoffs. Not even the Big Three in Miami can say that.
If Anthony reaches the postseason again, he’ll have to do it with a strained right shoulder that “gave out” against the Wizards.
“Throughout the course of the game there was no strength on the passes, causing turnovers and things like that,” Anthony said. “But hopefully I’ll be alright.”
“No playoffs, no Woody,” one league source told SheridanHoops.
“Without question he’s fired (if they miss the playoffs),” one Eastern Conference scout also told SheridanHoops.
The final play against the Wizards is the type of scenario that has Woodson under fire.
Woodson called the last play for Anthony, despite clearly favoring his injured shoulder while struggling from the field (5-14) to go along with nine turnovers. Marcin Gortat immediately fouled Anthony with Washington’s first foul to give in the last two minutes.
Immediately after the foul, the Knicks ran the exact same play. Anthony lost possession of the ball only to be regained by J.R. Smith for a desperation 3-pointer.
Raymond Felton was asked what happened on the final play and his response was an alarming admission regarding Woodson’s lack of preparation.
“Well, it’s tough when a team has a foul to give,” said Felton. “You draw a play up and then you have no more timeouts. You don’t have time to really set anything else up so you just try to run the same play over again.”
If you’re Woodson, you have to realize the Wizards could use the foul to give. Therefore, Woodson should have had the foresight to have a second play drawn up for that likely scenario knowing he already used his final timeout. Not having another play in that situation is simply inexcusable.
With that in mind, the idea of Anthony and Woodson leading the Knicks into the playoffs seemed absurd a month ago. They were a season-high 19 games under .500 at 21-40 on March 3, riding a seven-game losing streak and eight games behind the Atlanta Hawks in the loss column.
The Knicks have been an epic disappointment for the vast majority of the season and have woefully failed to meet championship expectations from owner James Dolan. Despite all the injuries, locker room turmoil, off-the-court legal troubles and constant speculation surrounding the futures of Anthony and Woodson, the Knicks remarkably still have five games to save the season from being a complete abomination.
“Despite this emotional season, this up and down season, I think it’d be a big deal for us to get in that spot and get in the playoffs and that’s our goal,” Anthony said Wednesday. “We’re fighting for that right now.”
Meanwhile, Woodson is fighting to save his job and rejuvenate faith in a new front office merely one season removed from guiding the Knicks to 54 wins. No Knicks coach has won as many regular season games since Jeff Van Gundy guided the team to 57 wins during the 1996-97 season.
Since Phil Jackson officially came aboard, there has been rampant speculation that Steve Kerr and other disciples of the triangle offense will be considered to coach the Knicks after this season, despite the recent hot streak.
Jackson himself fueled that speculation at his introductory news conference when he mentioned several times that making the playoffs was a realistic short-term goal.
All five of New York’s remaining games – three on the road, two at home – are against Eastern Conference teams who have clinched playoff berths but are still jockeying for position. There are no gimmes.
And if the Knicks miss the playoffs, one East executive expects changes to both the roster and bench in New York.
“Phil has to put his prints on that team,” the executive told SheridanHoops.
Those prints include re-signing Anthony this offseason. Making the playoffs may be enough to keep Anthony in New York for the remaining prime of his career. But even if they reach the postseason, the Knicks are virtually relegated to a matchup with Miami or Indiana, and a first-round exit could seal Woodson’s fate.
“It might help for Melo because I know he wants to stay, but he needs to see a plan,” a league source told SheridanHoops.
That plan has not been outlined for Anthony yet, said Jackson, who addressed the media at the team’s practice facility Thursday.
“We’ve had a couple of occasions to talk,” Jackson said. “We haven’t really delved into the future as much as what’s gone on, getting to know each other type of thing.”
One reason for New York’s turnaround has been the rejuvenation of Amar’e Stoudemire, who averaged 16.9 points and 6.6 rebounds in March. Most importantly, Stoudemire has given the Knicks consistent production at an exponentially higher rate than at any other time this season.
“(Stoudemire) has been unbelievable in this stretch,” Woodson said Wednesday. “Ever since we stuck him in the lineup, his minutes have grown to 30 minutes and it’s helped us tremendously.”
As a result, Stoudemire posted his highest PER of the season in March (22.66). It’s also no coincidence that Stoudemire’s PER is comparatively similar as a starter (22.29) in 16 games with consistent playing time.
By further comparison, Stoudemire’s PER is significantly lower when the Knicks lose (16.97) than when the team wins (21.55) over the entire course of the season.
Woodson is pulling out all the stops to save his job. Smith, the reigning Sixth Man Award winner, is now starting. Benchwarming big Cole Aldrich has been playing. But it may not be enough.
The Hawks (33-42) have two games in hand and a much easier schedule. Atlanta still has home games vs. Detroit and Boston and a road game vs. Milwaukee in its season finale.
“Our backs are against the wall right now,” said Anthony. “We control our own destiny.”
Rather, their fate controls their future.