With one week left in the NBA regular season, the pressure is on for two Eastern Conference teams and four Western Conference teams fighting for the final playoff spots. Millions will intently watch what transpires over the next seven days as teams face must-win games, and the effort and intensity pick up.
Each of these half-dozen teams have a player who will greatly impact the fate of their clubs the rest of the way.
New York Knicks- Amar’e Stoudemire
The Knicks are holding on for dear life behind the Atlanta Hawks in the race for the final playoff spot in the East. Since desperate head coach Mike Woodson inserted Stoudemire, a chronic and constant injury risk, into the starting five, player and team have performed a lot better.
The Knicks are 12-5 in the 17 games STAT has started this season, taking the scoring onus off the hobbled Carmelo Anthony and the shot-happy J.R. Smith just a little. Stoudemire’s efficiency and value to the team has increased since he became a starter, as evidenced by the following charts.
|Amar’e||Games Started||Minutes||FG %||Points||Rebounds||O Rating||Net Rating|
By starting in more games in March compared to February, he scored 12 more points per 100 possessions and his net rating increased by 13 points per 100 possessions in just seven more minutes played per game. Stoudemire’s knees were a concern, but perhaps the Knicks wouldn’t be in this current predicament if Woodson hadn’t tethered Amar’e to the bench. There were injury and minutes restrictions placed on Stoudemire during the early part of the season, which is a shame because he’s taking his stellar March play into the April stretch run.
New York has zero margin for error over their last four games, and Stoudemire has to finish the season with a flourish in order for the Knicks to avoid the lottery in a year when they have already traded away all of their draft picks.
Atlanta Hawks- Kyle Korver
In addition to Korver’s all-time record 3-point streak and his league leading 47.5 field goal percentage from behind the arc, Atlanta can’t really win when Korver is out of the lineup. The Hawks are 33-34 when Korver plays and 1-9 when he does not.
Atlanta doesn’t have a floor spacer and deep threat besides Korver unless you count Cartier Martin, who’s shooting 38.1 percent from three. Paul Millsap’s ability to stretch defenses and create mismatches was diminished when Al Horford went down for the season, and Jeff Teague’s field goal percentages leave much to be desired.
Korver’s 1.398 points per shot leads the Hawks, the only backcourt player who’s spent the whole season on one team to lead an Eastern Conference playoff team in that department. Korver is simply indispensable and the key to helping the Hawks secure the conference’s final playoff berth.