As of right now, the Knicks are battling the Bucks for the eighth seed in the East. Looking at their respective schedules, it would seem that the Bucks have a far easier road to the final playoff spot. However, the Knicks can make the playoffs if a few things happen.
1. Cut Down Isolation
The Knicks can score, even though they are missing Amar'e Stoudemire. Most of these points come from cuts to the basket and the pick-and-roll. During games though, it seems like one thing always seems to stop the flow on offense: isolation.
Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith are usually the ones who end up disrupting the offense. Not only has Carmelo scored more easily due to moving off the ball, but he has been shut down on isolation plays. If the Knicks focus entirely on moving without the ball, they will find much easier offense generated and will constantly beat tough defenses.
2. Keep Carmelo Motivated
Carmelo Anthony has been making more impact than scoring lately. In place of Amare Stoudemire, he has been consistently giving effort and hustle on both sides of the court. Granted, occasionally he goes into hero mode if he feels like he's getting hot, but the Knicks can deal with it as long as he continues to give the same effort on defense.
He has been playing guys as tough as he can in the post, and is rushing out to contest shots much more often. As a result, the Knicks have been forcing turnovers and getting easier transition points. If Carmelo gives this kind of effort for the last few games, the Knicks will be able to beat the toughest teams on their schedule.
3. Give the Same Effort
The real key to the latest Knicks' wins is the collective effort on defense. As a team, they are hustling to help out their teammates, closing out shooters, not giving up on plays, and as a result, they have been stifling their opponents.
It doesn't hurt that Iman Shumpert has been absolutely amazing on the perimeter. He has clearly become one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and always seems to give 100 percent. His effort has seemed to inspire his other teammates lately, too. For heaven's sake, he has been getting Baron Davis to dive for loose balls.
Also, Jared Jefferies, one of the hardest working defenders on the team, has returned from injury. With the kind of hustle the Knicks now give, they get every loose ball, which leads to far more possessions in games.
4. Keep Tyson Chandler Healthy
One cannot overstate how important Tyson Chandler has been for the Knicks.
He anchors the defense, letting guys like Shumpert take more risks and go for steals. He gets offensive rebounds, which often lead to wide open shots for his teammates, as well as defensive rebounds, which stop the opposition from getting second chances. He hustles back on defense, preventing easy transition points. Finally, he plays with an edge—he refuses to let himself be pushed around, and as a result, the rest of the Knicks play with an edge.
Because of Tyson Chandler, the Knicks are a gritty team that plays defense, rebounds and refuses to be pushed around, which can only lead to success in the playoffs. He is the shot of adrenaline that the Knicks sorely needed last year. As long as he stays healthy, I honestly believe that the Knicks are one of the best teams in the league.
As long as those four things happen, the Knicks can hang with any team in the league, and not only will they make the playoffs, they might advance a few rounds.