Well, last night changes everything. The New York Knicks walloped the third-seeded Orlando Magic at the Garden, 108-86, a final score that does not do justice to the complete domination on display—the Knicks were ahead by as much as 39.
For the second important contest in a row, Carmelo Anthony did what he does best: take complete control of the game and deliver a win.
He's had no choice but to hoist the team on his shoulders with the "Linjured" Jeremy Lin and Amar'e Stoudemire riding the pine both games.
On Monday, with Milwaukee just 1.5 games behind New York for the final playoff spot in the East, Anthony scored 28 points and took down 12 rebounds, creating some needed cushion in the standings. The Bucks were held to just 80 points.
Against the Magic, Anthony threw in another 25 on 60 percent shooting.
He’s not the only one who’s stepped up, though.
Iman Shumpert had 25 against the Magic, too. And he scored in double figures—along with Baron Davis and Tyson Chandler—against the Bucks.
Both games should be noted for the suffocating defense poured on by Mike Woodson's squad.
The Knicks will need all that and then some as they head into a critical April that will decide their playoff fate.
This is it. The lockout is a distant memory. The condensed schedule is wrapping up. Here are 10 predictions for New York’s home stretch.
It's his stage now.
Carmelo Anthony should have his best month of the season in April if his groin holds up.
The truth is he and Stoudemire never completely gelled. Anthony needs to own the floor to function, and here's his chance.
Also, Anthony is at his best against the toughest opponents, usually topping 20 points in the biggest games.
April has a lot of those in store. More on them later.
Actually, he already has under Mike Woodson.
With Carmelo Anthony firmly in control, Lin will focus on being the feeder.
There will still be those occasional Linsane performances, but they're not really necessary to win.
Woodson's mindset calls for tough defense and ball control. The longer Lin holds the ball and plays the point instead of rushing a penetration, the less time opponents will have to score.
Under Woodson, Lin's scoring average has dropped from 20 PPG to 13. That's about where Lin will finish up.
It makes sense that the Knicks D would be peaking now; that's what Mike Woodson was originally brought in to do.
New York has averaged just 86 points allowed under Woodson, and that's lower than any team's season average.
The latest word on Amar'e Stoudemire's bulging disc is he doesn't need surgery and will supposedly be out just two to four weeks.
I'm not buying it.
So what exactly has changed from the end of last season?
Well, things seem kind of worse.
After tweaking his back prior to Game 2 against the Celtics last postseason, "STAT" has not been the same. It took all of the extended summer just to get Stoudemire back into half form.
Clearly, Amar'e has been hobbling about much of the season and it's hard to believe he'll be in any useful form for the next month.
Expect Stoudemire to be a missing person in April. If the Knicks lock anything up early, they'll want him fully rested in time for the playoffs.
Even if he does come back, he can't be expected to be any better than when he went out at the end of last year. Stoudemire will return, at the very least, as a bit player.
Knicks fans will be teetering on their tiptoes, just hoping this worn team can hold itself together for the final run. You can't blame them for waiting for the other shoe to drop.
One more injury will really make this lineup thin. If anything happens to Carmelo Anthony or Tyson Chandler now, don't expect them to make the playoffs.
That groin you see Melo holding onto here might be the New York Knicks' most important body part.
STAT's out. Lin has an achy left knee. Jared Jeffries is out another week with an achy right knee. Keep an eye on Chandler's left wrist, and Josh Harrellson's right one.
Woodson will spread the minutes this month. These next players will get more than the usual floor time...
Iman Shumpert has been more than you can ask for all season long.
There was some inkling of what Shumpert was going to bring to the table before the season began, especially with regard to defense. But 25 points against the Orlando Magic?
He can pop the three, too.
With Lin out, Shumpert is an easy insertion into the starting five.
Josh Harrellson was also overachieving before going down with a broken wrist. He's working his way back.
There have also been numerous Jerome Jordan sightings recently. The Jamaican Hurricane is rolling in, finding its way into three of the last four games.
Expect to see even more of these three down the stretch as Woodson works the bench to keep the whole team fresh.
Remember that six-game losing streak at the beginning of March?
The Knicks face a similar stretch to open the month of April.
It starts with the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic—both on the road—two teams that are definitely looking to dole out a little payback.
Right after that, New York plays Chicago twice at home.
Then, again on the road, the Knicks take on the stalking Milwaukee Bucks.
Next to a much-improved defense, the three-pointer has become a critical piece of the Knicks' arsenal, more often used to crush an already flailing opponent than to catch up. But even the latter is viable.
Led by sharpshooter Steve Novak, suddenly New York is a trey-draining machine.
And it definitely demoralizes the enemy.
Novak will reach 100 three-pointers this year. Melo's going to have over 50. Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Bill Walker, Lin, Landry Fields and even Josh Harrellson can hit from behind the arc.
Look for a lot of Lin and point guard penetration into the paint, followed by the dish outside.
Take the eighth seed and run. Prepare for Chicago.
It's nice to dream about catching Philly. The 76ers are 2.5 games up with 13 to play. It is possible, but the Knicks fan has seen all too much of the up-and-down. Sure, they beat Milwaukee and Orlando—but then lose to Toronto, and egad, Charlotte.
You never know what you're going to get. And it's been like this since Anthony came to town.
I still need more proof than an 8-1 record under Woodson to really believe this is a new team.
More possibly, New York can catch aged Boston and slip into the seventh. Prepare for the Heat.
Neither of those scenarios are good ones.
But if they can catch Philadelphia and grab the No. 4 seed...wow. That would change the playoff landscape.
Cross your fingers.
With their win over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, the Knicks have peaked their heads over .500 for the first time since they were 6-5. It's been that long.
New York, 26-25, can win the two games closing out March (Atlanta and Cleveland) to go to 28-25.
That will leave some breathing room heading into the heavy April schedule. If the Knicks take the four games they should and win two of the playoff-contender games, they will finish two games over .500.
It's enough to make it to the playoffs, where it's a whole new season.