Even with the New York Knicks playing their best basketball in over a decade, for the second consecutive year their biggest issue heading into the postseason is their lack of healthy, capable guards.
In last year's playoffs, the Knicks' guards struggled to replace the production of Chauncey Billups once he went down with a series-ending knee injury in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics. Without another quality point guard on the roster, the Knicks flailed in a series sweep at the hands of Toney Douglas, Landry Fields, Anthony Carter and Bill Walker.
This year's situation is fairly similar. The Knicks are missing their floor general in Jeremy Lin and will have to rely on the production of the other guards on the roster.
First-year combo-guard Iman Shumpert, who has been one of the NBA's top rookies and has to be in consideration for an NBA All-Defensive Team, and streaky shooting J.R. Smith will surely be the X-factors for the Knicks in the postseason.
While Shumpert has tantalized opposing guards with suffocating defense all season, it will be interesting to see how he fairs in a playoff atmosphere, particularly against the Knicks' most likely first-round opponent, the Miami Heat.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade once again have a target on their backs. Are they going to let a rookie stand in their way of reaching the title game? I'm sure the Heat will be gearing up a game plan to neutralize the rookie guard.
However, Shumpert has never backed down from an opponent yet this season, especially James and Wade. Before the Knicks' last matchup against the Heat, Shumpert brushed off the intimidation of the Heat's two best players, saying via The New York Daily News, “No reason to (worry), it’s basketball, they are not gonna kill me.”
How well Smith is able to consistently shoot the basketball will also contribute to the Knicks' success. Regardless of how well he is shooting each game, you can pencil in Smith for at least 12 shots a night.
Smith gets far too caught up in his isolation game, but if he's stroking the basketball it's going to be a huge advantage for the Knicks.
The Knicks' biggest issue going into the postseason though is going to be their point guard play. Baron Davis has looked vintage at times and ancient at others. It's obvious that his stamina will never last him any longer than 30 minutes, and even that much time on the court starts to hinder his play.
His slew of nagging injuries has definitely slowed Davis down and the lack of rest down the stretch hasn't made it any easier on the 12-year veteran.
Mike Bibby might be the best option to go with for the majority of the minutes at point guard. He has played well as of late and his postseason experience may benefit the Knicks. Bibby rarely turns the ball over and that is a very important quality to have in the postseason.
The style of play shifts into a half-court game, where turnovers are much more prevalent. Davis tries to get too fancy sometimes and it leads to turnovers. Bibby is much more stable and while he isn't going to make a play that will win you the game, he isn't going cost you one either.
The Knicks can seldom afford mistakes against the Heat if they want to make this series competitive. The Knicks have played very well over the last month and a half, but will need to turn it up to a new level for the playoffs.