Ranking Potential First-Round Opponents for New York Knicks
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With three-quarters of the NBA season in the books, the playoff picture is starting to take shape.
While the Western Conference still has several teams vying for the eighth spot, the East seems to be pretty set as far as who will advance to the postseason.
The seeds, however, are far from determined.
While the Miami Heat have pulled into a comfortable lead for the top position, everyone else is still up in the air. Throw in the questionable status of stars like Amar'e Stoudemire and Derrick Rose, and first-round matchups are anybody's guess.
Here, we'll take a look at the Knicks' potential opponents, starting with the most favorable and leading to the toughest.
7. Milwaukee Bucks
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If you are a Knicks fan, this is the matchup that you're hoping for.
Besides the fact that the Bucks are currently seven games behind the Knicks in the standings, New York has owned Milwaukee this season. The Knicks won both of their contests by double-digit margins, which bodes well for the future.
In each game, the Knicks held the Bucks to less than 90 points.
Throw in the fact that Amar'e Stoudemire may not be back in time for the first round, and this is definitely the softball opponent the Knicks want.
6. Atlanta Hawks
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The Hawks are far from the scariest team in the East, but they have players who can go off on you if you're not careful.
The one time Atlanta and New York faced off this season, Josh Smith poured in 20 points, while teammate Jeff Teague dropped 27.
Fortunately for the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony dumped 42 points on his opponents that night, and the Knicks squeezed out a two-point victory.
Since Teague typically scores just over a dozen a game and Anthony will likely finish the season as one of the top two scorers in the league, a seven-game series between their two teams would surely be in the Knicks' favor.
5. Brooklyn Nets
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This one could depend on which Deron Williams shows up for the Nets: the one who made nine three-pointers in a half last week against the Wizards or the one who's been playing in pretty much every other Nets game this season.
Granted, even on a bad day, Williams is one of the top guards in the game, but as it stands, his team is firmly in the middle of the pack in a less-than-stellar Eastern Conference.
The Knicks and Nets have had several memorable contests already this season, each winning twice, but the men from Manhattan have won by greater margins. If the Knicks control the tempo in this series, it will be over quickly.
New York is known for their offense, and in the two games they won against their cross-town rivals this year, they scored 100 points. Meanwhile, in the games Brooklyn won, they held the Knicks to under 90.
If the Nets can step up their defense, this could be a series to remember. If not, the Knicks will cruise, and this "Battle of the Boroughs" will be boring at best.
4. Boston Celtics
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The Knicks and Celtics have battled twice so far this season, with each team winning on the other's floor.
They'll square off two more times before March is over, and these games should be more telling. Last time around, Rajon Rondo had a triple-double, and the Knicks still edged the Celtics by three points.
With Rondo gone for the remainder of the season, do the Celtics have any chance at all in these upcoming contests or in a postseason encounter? Absolutely.
Paul Pierce has retaken the reigns in Boston, and as Knicks fans know all too well, "The Truth" thrives when the pressure and spotlight are on him.
New York should still be favored in a seven-game series between these aging squads, because as good as Pierce is, Carmelo Anthony is better.
Nevertheless, it won't be easy, because Pierce and Kevin Garnett know what it takes to win in the postseason, something the Knicks haven't done in over a decade.
3. Miami Heat
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Clearly, the Heat are the alpha wolves of the Eastern Conference.
LeBron James is having a career year, which is saying a lot, and his team is riding an impressive 18-game winning streak. They are definitely the favorites to repeat as East champs.
However, one cannot ignore the fact that the Knicks have beaten them by 20 points twice this season (once without Carmelo Anthony) and controlled their most recent contest for much of the game before blowing a double-digit lead.
Not that the Knicks would be favored to win a playoff series against James and Co., but New York sure seems to know how to play these guys.
In each of their three games, the Knicks had at least five players scoring in double-figures.
If New York can get contributions from the whole team throughout the series, an upset would definitely be possible.
2. Chicago Bulls
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Knicks fans are wetting themselves at the thought of this one, and rightly so.
The Chicago Bulls are dangerous.
Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and the rest of the bunch just seem to want it more than anyone else. Last year, when star point guard Derrick Rose was out for part of the shortened season with an injury, the Bulls defied the odds by playing hard enough to stay in the hunt until he came back.
When Rose got hurt again, leaving him sidelined for potentially all of this season, Chicago was all but counted out.
Surely they didn't have the guts to will themselves to relevance without their leader, right? Wrong.
The Bulls are currently fifth in the conference and have won all three of their games against the Knicks, with one more to go. New York better pray that Chicago keeps winning, because if the Bulls slip down in the standings, a first-round encounter could spell big trouble in the Big Apple.
And if Rose comes back? Uh oh.
1. Indiana Pacers
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With Danny Granger missing most of the season due to injury, Paul George has stepped up in a big way for Indiana, scoring 17.6 PPG, five more than his career average.
The Pacers have been red hot as of late, and it's safe to say that no one wants to face them in the first round of the playoffs. The team that nearly knocked off the Heat in last year's postseason beat the Knicks in two of their three contests this year, the last time by an astounding 34-point margin.
Indiana is second in the league in points allowed per game and suffocated the Knicks in their second meeting of the season, holding them to a paltry 76.
Luckily for the Knicks, the Pacers are neck and neck with them in the standings, so a first-round matchup is highly unlikely.