The New York Knicks are 26-25 and still in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
However, they are finally coming together as a team and have proven they can hang with any team in the conference.
They are now only 2.5 games behind the 76ers and Celtics (who are tied for the lead in the Atlantic Division), which still gives them hope that they can gain the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Here are four reasons why I believe the Knicks will win their division and are in the upper echelon of teams in the Eastern Conference.
A common theme between many of the top teams in the East, like the Bulls, Magic and Pacers, is a dominant center. If you don’t have one to stop theirs, it will be very difficult to defeat one of these teams in a seven-game series, unless you are the Miami Heat.
Amar’e Stoudemire is a great big man, but he really doesn’t have the size and strength to guard guys like Dwight Howard and Roy Hibbert.
Tyson Chandler does. He also plays with intensity every night on both ends of the floor that when combined with his high basketball IQ, makes him an extremely valuable player. Chandler isn’t the most skilled center in the league, but he still leads the league in shooting percentage since he only takes smart, efficient shots.
With Chandler manning the middle for the Knicks, they definitely can compete with any team in a long playoffs series.
When the Knicks are completely healthy, they have probably the deepest rotation in the NBA. It is very common to see Mike Woodson use 10 players in the first quarter alone.
The most important players New York brings off the bench has to be the newest member of the Knicks, J.R. Smith, and rookie Iman Shumpert. Smith is great at creating his own shot and can score in bunches at any point during the game. Shumpert is the Knicks' best perimeter defender and can come in and shut down any guard in the league, regardless of which position they play. Both these players play with high energy all the time and can spark the team when they enter the game.
The rest of the Knicks bench is great as well because every player knows what their role is when they enter the game. Baron Davis is responsible for controlling the pace and distributing the ball to his scorers when Jeremy Lin needs a rest, Steve Novak’s job is to stand on the perimeter and hit open jump shots and Jared Jeffries needs to just focus on defense and taking charges around the basket.
These bench players have also proven they can step up into a starting role if needed, which is crucial to making a deep run in the playoffs.
The Knicks' defense has been like night and day from last season to this season.
It all started with the addition of two great individual defenders, Iman Shumpert and Tyson Chandler. The defensive intensity of these two players has been infectious and the rest of the team has really stepped up as a result of their stellar play.
Mike Woodson’s enthusiasm for defense has also been a huge reason the team has improved so much in that aspect. Since Mike D’Antoni was fired, opponent’s points per 100 possessions has decreased from 103.7 all the way down to 89.4.
Opposing teams are also shooting a much lower percentage from the field against the Knicks since the head coaching switch. Before the change, opposing teams shot 46.7 percent from the field, but now they are only shooting 40.3 percent.
As the old saying goes, “Offense wins games. Defense wins championships.” If the Knicks stay focused on playing great defense all throughout the playoffs, they will be a very hard team for anyone to beat.
If you look back at any championship team, there is almost always a dominant scorer like Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, who can create his own shot and score at will when the game is on the line.
Carmelo Anthony is one of these players. Whether he is playing small forward or power forward, Melo is a tough cover for any defender in the NBA.
There is no aspect of offense that Carmelo Anthony doesn’t do well. His range extends all the way to the three-point line and he is never afraid to shoot if he is left the slightest bit open. His defenders can’t cover him too tight though because he is extremely powerful when driving to the basket and can easily finish at the rim with contact.
Besides the skill, Carmelo has that killer instinct you want your go-to scorer to have. He’s hit numerous game-winning shots so far in his career and I expect he would do the same given the opportunity for the Knicks in the playoffs.