Biggest Remaining Tests to Prove NY Knicks Among NBA's Elite
They just dropped five of six, looking worse than that in the process. The Indiana Pacers zipped past them in the standings, and the Miami Heat are pulling away. Even in wins, New York has been far from dominant, a necessary characteristic of elite teams.
But the Knicks may be on the road back. They’ve run off two in a row, including a nice win against the Golden State Warriors.
Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler are peaking statistically. The team’s other big man, Amar’e Stoudemire, is popping about 22 points per 36 minutes.
Most of the Knicks’ recent issues surround the inconsistent play of the team’s other players.
The season is far from over, though, and there is plenty of time for New York to steal that second seed back from Indiana and head into the playoffs feared (which, now, they are not).
But pass these remaining tests, and New York will be considered one of the NBA’s elite postseason contenders.
1. Beat the Golden State Warriors with David Lee on the Road
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
At least the Knicks beat the Philadelphia 76ers to stop their four-game losing streak. But that’s still a mediocre win.
The win against the Warriors was better. New York staved off Stephen Curry’s 54 points and had some key defensive and offensive plays in the deciding final minutes.
But wait a second. Where was All-Star—and the Warriors’ top rebounder (11.1 per game) and second-best scorer (19)—David Lee?
Lee and Pacers center Roy Hibbert were suspended one game each for their roles in a bench-clearing brawl that nearly spilled into the stands late in Indiana's 108-97 victory Tuesday. (via USA Today).
On March 11, the Knicks will face the Warriors again, this time with Lee monitoring the boards. Let’s see Chandler get 28 rebounds then.
Lee or no Lee, the Knicks must win this to be in the elite conversation.
This game is the harbinger of a more grueling test for New York…
2. Five-Game West Coast Swing
USA TODAY Sports
That Warriors game begins the Knicks’ longest road-trip on the 2012-13 schedule, and it’s all out West.
Four of these teams are playoff bound. The Blazers showed some early promise but are in a devastating tailspin (2-8 in last 10).
The Knicks are better on paper than the Blazers (though they lost to them on Jan. 1), the Warriors (even with Lee) and the Jazz. New York must go at least 3-2. Anything less is a failure.
Can they beat the Nuggets and/or the Clippers, too?
Going 4-1 on this West Coast trip will be worthy of elite consideration.
3. Three Western Conference Bouts: Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
On March 7 and April 7, in two nationally televised contests, the Knicks will at last encounter the Oklahoma City Thunder, arguably the West’s best team and the NBA’s best offense.
The Knicks are 2-7 against the Thunder since Kevin Durant joined the league in 2007-08. Hard to believe New York has a shot at a series sweep, but taking the one at the Garden will be big.
And remember that fabulous 6-0 start? It was thumped by the too-big Memphis Grizzlies in Game 7. Memphis comes to town on March 27.
If Stoudemire keeps up his pace, he should be able to put up a 30-minute spot here and even up the size differential. That could give New York the edge this time.
After going 6-8 in a 14-game stretch, the Grizzlies have won eight in a row, all after the Rudy Gay trade.
Take two of these three games, and that’s bad (meaning elite).
4. Two More Against the Miami Heat
USA TODAY Sports
Don’t look now, but the third game of the always-good Knicks-Heat series is on the horizon: this Sunday, March 3.
The Miami Heat are annihilating every team in their path at the moment, having won 12 in a row. The Grizzlies and Knicks are next.
But New York has Miami’s number this year, and if the Knicks’ defense plays as it did in those first two wins, the team can win again. Thing is, this one’s on the road. If Miami loses to Memphis first, you have to believe that would hurt the Knicks' chances further.
LeBron and company visit New York on April 2—a month full of Eastern Conference competition for the Knicks.
Taking this series 3-1 or pulling an incredible sweep would help the Knicks’ elite endeavor.
5. Eastern Conference Matchups Against Playoff Contenders
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
The final two months of the season are naturally filled with games against potential Eastern playoff rivals. The outcomes will determine seeding, and with only 7.5 games separating seeds two through eight right now (and another 28 games on the schedule), the Knicks could find themselves in the bottom half of the bracket.
But they can rise to elite status again by recapturing that second seed (at least). The April 14 game against the Indiana Pacers might have a say in the matter.
What’s scary about the Hawks is they’ve suddenly popped up in the Knicks’ rear-view, just two games behind, and there are two games left in the series (April 3 is the other).
The Knicks have two games against the Boston Celtics as well, a team they can never beat soundly.
Including the Milwaukee Bucks (April 5) and the two against the Heat, New York has nine games left against current Eastern Conference playoff teams.
The Knicks’ record in these most-important games will have the greatest impact on their playoff seeding and in the end be the truest measure of whether this is an elite NBA team or not.