The dog days of NBA basketball are upon us, occurring during a massive black hole in the sports calendar between the Super Bowl and the NCAA men's basketball conference tournaments. For the last nine seasons, this void was a time for Knicks fans to count the days, hours and minutes until they could make picks in their March Madness pools, but that was only a temporary distraction from another sub-.400 season.
February finally has true meaning this season, with the 26-24 Knicks in second place in the Atlantic Division and sixth place in the Eastern Conference. A buzz has returned to Madison Square Garden not seen since Stephon Marbury returned to New York in 2004, but that homecoming quickly turned from a temporary band aid to a seemingly permanent nightmare.
With 32 games remaining in what has been an unusually exciting season for a team barely over .500, it's easy to pick 10 games that Knicks fans should mark on their calendars before scouring the bracketology websites.
The Lakers used their length to dominate the boards and hold Amar'e Stoudemire to a 7-of-23 shooting night as they defeated the Knicks 109-87 at home last month.
Los Angeles scored 50 points in the paint to the Knicks' 30, and out-rebounded them 61-42.
The Knicks started with Shawne Williams in place of an injured Danilo Gallinari, and much like in the Knicks' loss to Philadelphia Friday, this coaching decision backfired. The Lakers took advantage of the Knicks' decision to go small and coasted in the second half, out-scoring New York 57-40.
Expect to see Timofey Mozgov on Pau Gasol and Amar'e Stoudemire on Andrew Bynum at the start of the game. If the Knicks' big men can stay out of trouble, New York has a shot of stealing one at home against the embattled Lakers, who are glumly standing before a media firing squad for recent inconsistent performances.
Miami took an overhyped 113-91 decision from the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on December 17 before returning to South Beach and beating New York at home 106-98 just 11 days later.
In January, the Knicks took advantage of a 7-of-24 shooting night from LeBron James, as well as 17 Miami turnovers and Chris Bosh's absence, to defeat the Heat 93-88 back at the Garden.
Those games may be a distant memory if Carmelo Anthony is a New York Knick on this date. The NBA trade deadline is February 24 at 3 p.m., so we'll certainly know by the 27th whether Anthony will be a Knick this season.
This is the last meeting between the two teams in the regular season, but both could face each other in the first round of the NBA playoffs, perhaps in a No. 3 vs. No. 6 or No. 2 vs. No. 7 matchup.
The Knicks lost to Cleveland 109-102 in overtime in December. New York was playing the second game of a back-to-back set and its third game in four days, so none of the Knicks had their legs.
The Cavs have lost 25 straight games since that day, earning the Knicks the ignominious distinction of being a trivia answer: Which team is the only one to have lost to Cleveland since Thanksgiving weekend?
For the Knicks, this particular game is important because it's easily the most winnable game in an eight-game stretch between February 27 and March 10 that would be difficult for any to navigate: @Miami, @Orlando, vs. New Orleans, vs. Cleveland, @Atlanta, vs. Utah, @Memphis, @Dallas.
What's the best case scenario, 4-4? The Knicks need that win against Cleveland, or else a loss might send them into a dangerous tailspin.
The Knicks beat Indiana 98-92 to ring in 2011 on January 2 at MSG. That game is best remembered for Wilson Chandler's half-court shot to beat the third quarter buzzer and Danilo Gallinari's injury that sidelined him for a few weeks.
Indiana is not the same team as it was that day Former coach Jim O'Brien has been fired, and new Pacers interim coach Frank Vogel has won his first four games as the head man, leading Indiana into the eighth and final playoff spot position in the Eastern Conference. He clearly is a players coach, expanding the rotation (10 players had 19 or more minutes against the Nets on Sunday) and drawing raves from players on his upbeat attitude and strategy.
How long the honeymoon lasts remains to be seen, but it doesn't need to last too long to secure the Pacers a playoff spot in a top-heavy East.
Indiana, at 21-27, is only three losses behind the Knicks, so the Pacers could be within arm's length when this home-and-home series occurs.
Note: Both home-and-home games will be on MSG. The Knicks also play Indiana on Sunday, April 10 at 7 p.m. on NBA TV.
New York fought valiantly but lost 105-101 and 118-116 contests to the Celtics earlier this season.
Rondo dished 24 assists, an NBA season high, in Boston's 105-101 November win at the TD Garden. Boston out-rebounded New York, 54-38, and Danilo Gallinari scored just two points for the Knicks.
Boston's 118-116 win in mid-December was arguably the best 2010-11 NBA regular season game thus far. Paul Pierce hit a jumper in Amar'e Stoudemire's face with four-tenths of a second left, but Stoudemire nearly got a game-winning three-pointer off that would have won the game. The rebounding differential was closer than the first game (39-35 in Boston's favor) and Stoudemire scored 39 points and 10 rebounds, but those statistics were helped by the absences of injured big men Shaquille O'Neal and Kendrick Perkins.
The Knicks cut a 20-point deficit down to two but couldn't complete a comeback against the host Orlando Magic in a 112-103 defeat in December. Dwight Howard had more than half of New York's rebounding total by himself, going for 18 boards along with 24 points. Orlando out-rebounded New York, 51-35 on the night.
Although the new-look Magic gelled against the Knicks, they have been just 5-5 in their last 10 games and are 32-20, sitting in third place in the Southeast and fifth in the Eastern Conference.
If the most recent (and ludicrous) Melo trade proposal goes through, the one that lets the Knicks more or less exchange Wilson Chandler for Carmelo Anthony, New York could make a run at the fifth seed if Orlando continues to mire in its recent mediocrity.
Note: New York plays Orlando on ESPN on March 23. The game on the 28th is a makeup from a previously scheduled November 2 contest that was postponed after debris fell from the MSG rafters the day before. As of now, no channel is listed for that game.
Toney Douglas scored 30 points in the Knicks' 120-112 win over Chicago in November. New York shot 16-of-24 from three-point range and overcame Derrick Rose's 24 points and 14 assists in his effort to put the Bulls on his back with Carlos Boozer injured.
Both teams looked like they were hungover from spiked eggnog on Christmas Day, with the Knicks winning 103-95 at the Garden in a game where the two teams combined for 45 turnovers. This time, Joakim Noah was injured and did not play.
This will be the Knicks' second-to-last regular season game, but this may also be a preview of their first-round matchup in the playoffs. Furthermore, the Knicks will most likely see Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer on the court at the same time. How will Amar'e Stoudemire deal with that?
This will be the last regular season game for both teams, so this could be of great importance or none at all. Boston will most likely fight until April for the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed, while the Knicks are probably locked into the sixth seed barring a disappointing collapse.
Even if the game means nothing in terms of playoff positioning, with the way the first two games between these teams have gone, it should be entertaining to watch nonetheless.
Again, how Amar'e Stoudemire deals with a big man who he didn't see previously this season because of injury, this time Kendrick Perkins, will be the major theme here.