Keys to NY Knicks Strong Regular Season Finish

Ronn Blitzer@RonnBlitzContributor IIIApril 10, 2013

Keys to NY Knicks Strong Regular Season Finish

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    The NBA regular season is in its homestretch, and with just a few games remaining, the New York Knicks need to finish strong to carry momentum into the playoffs.

    What do they need to do for this to happen? The short answer is exactly what they've been doing. The Knicks extended their winning streak to 13 with a victory over Washington Tuesday night.

    Here's a look at the particulars of what New York needs to do to end the season on a high note.

1. Ball Movement

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    The Knicks need to finish the way they started it: by passing the ball and moving it throughout the court. Keeping their opponents guessing and setting up high-percentage shots resulted in New York taking an early lead in the Atlantic Division standings back in November.

    The same strategy has helped it guarantee that it will end the season on top as well.

    When the Knicks struggled at times during the winter, it was because they fell into bad habits. They relied on isolation plays and forgot how to play team ball. At times, it seemed as if they had no game plan whatsoever.

    Fortunately, they got their groove back. If they want to keep it, they must continue to look for the extra pass, find the open man and take the best shots available.

2. A Consistent J.R. Smith

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    Early in the season, J.R. Smith drew comparisons to former Knicks' sixth man John Starks. Both provided sparks off the bench, and they could lead their team in scoring in a given game.

    Both also could win or lose a game single-handedly, depending on whether they were on that day.

    Consistency—or lack thereof—has been Smith's greatest obstacle. During one stretch in February, he scored six points in one game, 26 in the next and then immediately followed with a five-point performance.

    Smith's field-goal percentage for January was an anemic .366, averaging 15.8 PPG. During that time, he had four 20-point games.

    Since then, however, Smith has steadily improved.

    His shooting percentage rose to .430 in February, to .442 in March and to .452 in April. In addition, he's averaging 21.25 PPG for March and April. He's also had six 30-point games in that span.

    Continuing this level of play will not only catapult Smith into a higher echelon of NBA stars, it will send his team far into the playoffs.

3. Rest the Old Guys

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    As a team, the Knicks are the oldest in the NBA with multiple significant role players in their 40s.

    While they've all shown they still have the talent necessary to contribute on a high level, their bodies are starting to betray them.

    Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace are out with injuries. Meanwhile, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni are on the floor every night. Of this group, Prigioni is the youngest at 36.

    Each has the talent to deliver in the postseason, but coach Mike Woodson better keep a tight watch over Prigioni's and Kidd's minutes before they wind up sidelined with the rest of the old folks.

    There is a fine line, however, between resting players to keep them fresh and allowing them to get rusty. It will be up to Woodson not to cross it.

4. Carmelo, Carmelo, Carmelo

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    It shouldn't come as a surprise that during the Knicks' winning streak, Carmelo Anthony has been playing brilliantly.

    Anthony sat out the first game of the streak, but since then he is averaging exactly 33 PPG. For April, he is at 40.6 PPG.

    While it might be unrealistic to expect numbers of this sort to continue, the Knicks will need MVP-quality play from their star to give them continued momentum through the end of the season, leading into the playoffs.