It's officially time to worry if you're a New York Knicks fan.
New York has lost three straight and eight of their last 13 games. They are still second in the Eastern Conference behind the Miami Heat but they are only two games out of dropping all the way to the sixth seed.
They should be able to break out of their recent slump with eight of their next 12 games against below .500 teams. It is critical for the Knicks to grab one of the first three seeds in the playoffs to ensure home-court advantage at least in the first round and also avoid playing the Heat until the Eastern Conference Finals.
This is assuming, of course, that the Heat grab the top seed, which I think they ultimately will do, and that the Knicks actually win their first two playoff series.
Regardless of their playoff seed, though, this team is simply not a legitimate threat to win the NBA Title—for a couple of reasons.
First, they don't have a true second scoring option to go along with Carmelo Anthony. Sure J.R. Smith is averaging 17 points per game but he has proven over the last week that he can't play Robin to Anthony's Batman. When Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics frustrated Anthony into a miserable 6-for-26 shooting performance Monday night, Smith wasn't able to pick up the slack. He did have 24 points but only shot 7-for-18 from the field.
More importantly, he didn't make his presence felt in the fourth quarter with the game in the balance. Smith had a relatively quiet six points in the quarter on 2-for-5 shooting and also missed a key free-throw that could have cut the Celtics lead to three with a little more than one minute left in the game.
Are the Knicks a legitimate title contender this season?
Smith also didn't impress when flying solo with Anthony suspended against the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night. He shot a horrific 10-for-29 from the field while scoring an inefficient 25 points. His inefficiency was a big reason why the Knicks netted a season-low 76 points in that game.
If you think Amar'e Stoudemire can slide behind 'Melo as a second scoring weapon, you're dreaming. Stoudemire is six games into his return from a knee injury that cost him the first 30 games of the season and the Knicks still don't feel comfortable playing him more than 20 minutes a game. Stoudemire has a much better chance of getting injured again than averaging 18-20 points a game any time this season.
Good defensive teams like the Heat, Pacers, Bulls and Celtics will get the ball out of Anthony's hands and make other guys try to beat them. I'm not confident Smith can do it or that Stoudemire will be there to do it.
The other problem with the Knicks is their lack of interior defense outside of Tyson Chandler. Chandler is a good low-post defender but he's not Dwight Howard in his prime (despite his solid stats this season Howard is simply not the same player since the back injury).
He's not a great shot-blocker and he can be overpowered by physical centers.
The Knicks need someone to complement Chandler but there isn't a reliable option on the roster. Rasheed Wallace was that guy earlier in the season but the mysterious foot injury that has kept him out for nearly a month and counting proves that relying on a 38-year old is not a wise thing to do. Marcus Camby proves this theory even more so since he seems to get hurt every two weeks.
It's a long season and a lot can still happen. Maybe Wallace gets healthy and contributes 15-20 minutes a game in a long playoff run. Maybe Stoudemire can consistently play 30 minutes a game and shake off the rust.