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8 Reasons New York Knicks Can Win Atlantic Division

Vin GetzCorrespondent IAugust 21, 2012

8 Reasons New York Knicks Can Win Atlantic Division

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    Not only can the New York Knicks win the Atlantic Division, they’re going to.

    Now, of course, no matter what kind of fan one is, generally it’s not wise to take such a cocky stance.

    Look at the 2007 New England Patriots, for instance. Or those 1969 Baltimore Orioles. Or any of these 10 NBA squads.

    No matter how good a team is, you never know.

    And we’re talking about the Knicks here: a team perennially not “comfortable” with league domination, or even winning their own division, a feat—no, coup—they have not accomplished in almost 20 years (1993-94). It just hasn’t been their thing.

    But finally, New York is poised to claim a fifth division banner this upcoming season. This front office (Grunwald), this coach, and this team will be the first in two decades to solve the riddles of the Atlantic.

    And what are the answers to those riddles? How will the Knicks win the Atlantic?

    Let’s start with the question, “Who’s going to stop them?”

1. The Toronto Raptors Are a Non-Factor

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    The Toronto Raptors are an improved team but one in an early stage of building for the future—lifting third-year small forward Landry Fields from the Knicks, getting five years younger at point guard by acquiring Kyle Lowry from the Rockets and importing 20-year old center and 2011 draft pick, Jonas Valanciunas from Lithuania—and will again struggle to stay out of the Atlantic’s cellar.

    Last season, they barely stayed out of it by a single game over the yet more-improved Brooklyn Nets.

    Perhaps “non-factor” is a harsh judgment of this team’s potential, and they did go 2-2 against the Knicks last year, but for the 2012-13 Toronto Raptors, whose remaining two starters are 26-year old power forward Andrea Bargnani and 23-year old shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, “The Time is Not Now, But Maybe in A Few Years.”

    Contending for the Atlantic title, or interfering with it, isn’t going to happen. It is doubtful the Raptors can even claw their way up the 12 games they missed the eight seed by last season and seize the one newly available playoff spot left vacant by the Orlando Magic.

2. The Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets Aren't Good Enough

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    The Philadelphia 76ers and the now-Brooklyn Nets made big moves this offseason.

    The Sixers' Andrew Bynum and Nets' Joe Johnson are roster-rocking upgrades at their respective positions.

    Both teams will be better this year.

    For the Nets, that won't be hard to do. They finished 22 games under .500 and 14 games behind the Knicks in 2011-12. Will Johnson and the return of Brook Lopez catapult the Nets over such a chasm? Only if Deron Williams has a Derrick Rose MVP-like season.

    It is possible, but let's wait until the Nets prove something by posting a winning record for any length of time, before handing them the division title.

    Still, Brooklyn's upgraded roster means the franchise could make the playoffs for the first time in six years, assuming a very possible four teams come out of the Atlantic.

    The 76ers are another story. They hung about the Knicks' postseason hopes like an albatross until the last week of the season, and for a short time it looked like they might play playoff foil.

    In the end, both teams made it in, with Philly taking the eighth seed just a game behind New York.

    And now, the Sixers should be better, having picked up Andrew Bynum for a couple of cheesesteaks, but really, who the heck knows? It's a completely different team with but "five players from last season's roster." Beware, though, Collins had a similar patchwork lineup last year that nearly took the Atlantic before drowning in March.

    But assuming the Sixers' offseason changes would prevent a late-season collapse and avail them of the Atlantic Division throne would discount one thing in particular...

3. The Knicks Will Field Their Best Team in 16 Years

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    While the 1998-99 Knicks went to the NBA Finals, and the 1999-2000 team won 50 games, to find a New York five as good as the one the Knicks will field in 2012, you have to go back to the dominating Ewing-Oakley-Johnson-Starks-Houston team of 1996-97.

    There were only 50 games in that lockout-shortened "1999" season and the Knicks finished 27-23, fourth in the Atlantic. They eked into the playoffs as an eight-seed, then erupted at the right time, vanquishing the Heat, Hawks and Pacers to take the East.

    In 2000, Ewing's last year with the team, the Allan Houston-Latrell Sprewell guard combo took the Knicks to the Eastern Conference Finals.

    But the 2012-13 Knicks are better, at least on paper, than both of those teams.

    You have to go back to the 1996-97 team, a 57-25 three-seed victim to the 69-win Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls and 61-win Miami Heat, to find comparable home talent.

    But how comparable?

4. The Knicks Will Win 54 Games

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    And you're looking at the man that can deliver such a bounty.

    Let's start with the math. Mike Woodson went 18-6 in his 24 games manning the helm, all after the Jeremy Lin blitz. During Woodson's stewardship, regardless of win-loss, the Knicks faced every important team in the East.

    This is not an exact science, but if Woodson were to mimic this performance over a whole season, he'd register a 62-20 record.

    Now, that's not going happen. The Knicks didn't face some heavy hitters out West for one thing and 62 games are a lot to win. But even if you start by shaving 20 percent off the top, New York would begin with 50 wins.

    Eliminating foolish losses to teams like the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers would push the Knicks' win total beyond that.

    And they're finally in a position—removed from the flux of coaching issues, varying offensive schemes, point guard questions, an insufficient training camp, a matador defense, and a lack of time playing together—to get it done.

5. Knicks Will Have Offensive Return to Form

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    The Knicks have the only bona fide Big Three in the Atlantic, unless you want to count Jason Terry.

    The Carmelo Anthony-Amar'e Stoudemire one-two, hopefully distanced from STAT's injury and malaise, and Mike D'Antoni's unfit scheme, will blossom this season, but perhaps the only way for both superstars to bucket 20 to 25 points a game is to have them separately be the focus of the offense at different times.

    Tyson Chandler showed a lot on defense, but also a little something on offense, averaging 11 PPG last season.

    Propped up by a supporting cast adept at bottoming the net, from starters Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith to backups Steve Novak and Jason Kidd, while not achieving the offensive heights of D'Antoni's seven seconds, the Knicks should once again average 100 points a game.

    That would make them the highest scoring team in the Atlantic again, and one of the highest scoring in the whole East.

    An Amar'e Stoudemire resurgence is the key to all this, though. Stoudemire admitted via ESPN that last season "was a tough year for me." STAT's work with Hakeem Olajuwon in the offseason should pay offensive dividends.

6. Knicks Improved Defense in the Offseason

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    If Marcus Camby still has 20, or even 15, minutes in him, the Knicks will have a formidable second line when Tyson Chandler is on the bench. Last year, the inconsistent and frail Jared Jeffries spelled the big man. Jeffries contributed an anemic four rebounds and less than one block per game.

    Camby?

    Nine rebounds and one and a half blocks.

    Veterans Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd are big improvements over Toney Douglas and Jeremy Lin on the defensive side of the ball, and will also defend ball possession with more care.

    Preventing turnovers and eating up the clock on offense, Douglas and Lin weaknesses, are an important part of defense too, keeping the ball out of the opponents hands.

    It doesn't stop there.

    Even the Ronnie Brewer pickup was meant as a "defense-first insurance plan for J.R. Smith," according to capitalnewyork.com.

    And we haven't mentioned Iman Shumpert, who flashed some defensive brilliance in his rookie campaign. Shumpert will return to shore up the roster in January.

    Perhaps a clever pickup, backup guard Pablo Prigioni, will up the defensive ante. Prigioni does two things well: passing and defending, and he was named to the All-Spanish ACB League Defensive Team.

7. The Knicks Almost Won It Last Year

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    Having spent most of the past decade and change wandering the NBA desert, Knicks fans have learned to gratefully accept average performance.

    Satiated with managing a seven or eight seed or winning a single playoff game, Joe and Jane Knick hadn't noticed just how close New York was, and can be, to winning the Atlantic and a fourth, third or how about a second seed?

    Just three games separated the Knicks from the Celtics when the books closed on the 2011-12 regular season, and it was a lot closer than that. The No. 3 seed, and the Atlantic title, was within the Knicks' grasp up until the final two weeks of the season.

    With an improved offense, improved defense, influential coach, healthy Stoudemire and Anthony with his game and the offensive scheme where he wants it to be, the Knicks are primed to change the Atlantic guard.

    So, the Knicks are not far off at all, and cutting dead weight like Landry Fields, Mike Bibby, Jared Jeffries, Toney Douglas and Bill Walker will surely help the team gain some lift.

    There's just one thing standing in the way of an Atlantic Division title...

8. The Boston Celtics

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    It's Boston's division to cede still.

    Losing Ray Allen and gaining age has got to hurt. Jason Terry was a slick pickup for the Celts, but will he be able to step right in and maintain the consistency and chemistry of a team that has been clockwork, winning the Atlantic the past five years in a row?

    Save for a late-season push last year that saw the Celtics turn their record around from 16-17 to 39-27, Boston was struggling to find its footing. They weren't that good. They were slipping from their perch.

    The Knicks failed to seize the opportunity when the Atlantic favorites were flailing about early on, themselves going 16-17 thanks to losses to the Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets.

    The only truly strong team the Knicks beat during that stretch was, guess who, the Boston Celtics.

    The improvements New York made in the offseason on both sides of the ball, an organization- and team-supported coach calling the plays and the most well-rounded team New York has had in over a decade will ensure the Knicks match up well with their prime opponent again, and also be able to consistently beat those feeble teams they absolutely must to win the Atlantic.

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