Mike Woodson: 'I Expect Us' to Win Atlantic Division This Season

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 27, 2013

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Who knew New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson was a secret genius this entire time?

No, he hasn't found a way to ignite this punchless offense or shore up this porous defense.

What he has done, though, is manage to sound like he's aiming for the stars...while lowering expectations. If that isn't the type of trickery that Knicks owner James Dolan can appreciate, then Woodson may as well fire himself.

So, what exactly did the coach say? Well, take a look at his quote on his team's chances this season and see if it doesn't seem to be raising the bar.

"Do I see some light at the end of the tunnel? I do," Woodson said, via Marc Berman of the New York Post. "I’m pushing our team to win our division still. We won it last year. I expect us to win it this year."

Dec 18, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson talks to forward Carmelo Anthony (7) and guard J.R. Smith (8) during the first overtime period against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center.  New York won 107-101 in dou
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Berman labeled the coach's comments as "bold." Brilliant seems to be a far better descriptor.

On the surface, these words do come off a little as bold. Crazy even. The Knicks are 9-19 and have the league's ninth-worst net rating (minus-3.9 points per 100 possessions). Given those marks, tanking would seem to be a more appropriate talking point than capturing a division title.

In a normal division, that would be the case. But the Atlantic Division is far from typical; it's historically weak.

Despite their sluggish start, the Knicks are just three games back of the division-leading Toronto Raptors (11-15). As Berman notes, Toronto's mark is "the worst clip for a division leader at this stage of a season in 38 years."

TORONTO, CANADA - OCTOBER 21: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors looks to pass the ball against Tim Hardaway Jr. #5 of the New York Knicks during the game on October 21, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User
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Mediocrity is usually a damning fate in the NBA. In this division, it would be a standard setter. There's nothing bold about aiming to become the best of the worst. Not when Dolan already fed the hype machine by laying out a championship expectation before the start of the season.

But as long as someone sees Woodson's words as encouraging, then the coach is doing his job. At the least, it seems to draw attention away from that raging inferno under his coaching seat. 

During New York's 123-94 blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas Day, Woodson drew (some of) the ire of a disgruntled Madison Square Garden crowd. As NorthJersey.com's Steve Popper summed it up:

Chants erupted of 'Fire Woodson,' for coach Mike Woodson; 'Fire Dolan,” for team owner James Dolan, who was not around to hear it; and just plain boos for Smith and whomever else was worth singling out.

Suffering a 29-point loss on your home court should be a crushing blow. But as Woodson knows, there is no such thing as a deflating loss in the hapless Atlantic Division.