In what may be a first-round preview for the 2012 NBA playoffs, the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls traded blows in two epic games on April 8 and 10. Both games had a playoff atmosphere, and games like these will shape the playoff picture for the Eastern Conference.
Easter Sunday gave us one of the best basketball games of the year. Carmelo Anthony drained this three with 8.2 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Knicks a one-point victory in Madison Square Garden.
In the rematch just two days later, Chicago was without Derrick Rose but pulled out a win with superb team play. The Bulls assisted on 27 of their 39 made baskets, 13 more than their game on Sunday.
This historic rivalry is one of the best in the game, and both games have showed that one thing is certain: The Eastern Conference is up for grabs.
As turbulent as this year has been, New York has held on to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. Performances like the one on April 8 have kept them in the playoff race. A game against ninth-ranked Milwaukee later tonight may be the deciding factor in the Knicks' playoff hopes.
Chicago hasn't received the publicity like New York, but the team's record speaks for itself. An NBA-leading 44-14 has the Bulls in line for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
If the past week is any indication, they'll need it.
Chicago has more wins than any other team in the NBA. They have the reigning MVP. They rebound better than any other team in basketball and play great team defense (kudos to Tom Thibodeau). However, the Easter Sunday loss to the Knicks shows that this team has faults. They are 2-3 in April, mostly without Rose, and they will need him at full strength if they expect to make the Eastern Conference Finals two years in a row.
Chicago needs momentum heading into the playoffs. They'll have home-court advantage in the first round, but losing the top seed in the East may prove to be costly.
New York is a dangerous team to play in the first round, regardless of whether or not Rose is in the picture.
The Knicks were picked by many to be one of the best teams in the NBA in 2012. It is clear they have the talent to play with the best teams in the Eastern Conference, especially when you consider their hot streak in the past month.
Their past two games against the Bulls have showcased their playoff-talented squad. The Knicks can hang with the top teams in the Eastern Conference. It will take a concerted effort in the next two weeks for the Knicks to stay in the playoff race and keep the Bucks at bay.
March Madness may be over, but April has NBA fans thinking playoffs. The New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls have given us a taste of what to expect in the coming weeks.