With about three quarters of the NBA season in the books, the playoffs are creeping up on us. The new-look Knickerbockers are finally starting to gel after an impressive road victory in Atlanta, followed by a dominant performance in front of the home crowd versus the Jazz.
New York still sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, a half game ahead of the surging 76ers and just three back of Atlanta after their loss to the Lakers tonight. Playoffs are a virtual guarantee for Mike D'Antoni and company, something Knicks faithful haven't had the luxury of looking forward to in quite some time.
However, although it is easy to get excited when you see Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire sharing the court together, this team is still a work in progress and needs to improve in certain areas in order to make an impact in the postseason this year.
I can guarantee no team wants to see the Knicks in the first round, or any round for that matter. New York has a scoring tandem that could take over any series, and they will continue to get better as the season goes on. There are some players however, that D'Antoni's boys would have particular trouble matching up with, given they encountered them in a playoff series.
Here are 10 player matchups that could spell danger for the Knickerbockers come time for the postseason.
Note: I based this article off the current playoff positions, assuming the Knicks would not see the bottom two teams (Pacers and 76ers) at all in the playoffs.
Over the past five years or so, its hard to name a player that has done more damage against the Knicks than this guy.
Paul Pierce is the epitome of consistency in a league where as an aging veteran, it is hard to keep up with the plethora of young budding stars entering the league each year.
In a season where "The Truth" is averaging just over 19 points, five rebounds and three assists, he is blistering the Knicks defense, averaging 28.5 points, 12 rebounds and over four assists in the two games against New York this year, not to mention the buzzer beater in the most recent contest that ended an early nine-game winning streak for the Knickerbockers.
I know the Knicks team Pierce would see in the playoffs is not the same as the one he saw in the first half of the year, but Pierce is a warrior who rises to the occasion, and he seems to play his best against the boys from the Big Apple.
He would also most likely be matched up with Carmelo Anthony, which could tire him out on the defensive end, but 'Melo is the most gifted defender, although he has shown more prowess as of late.
Derrick Rose officially has the Bulls back in elite form, posting huge numbers and making a bid for an MVP.
In both games against the Knicks, Chicago was missing one of their key big men (Boozer for the first game, Noah for the second), which may have had an effect on the outcome, but that didn't stop Rose from posting an average of 24.5 points, four rebounds, 11 assists and four steals in the two games. He is an electric scorer with the ability to take over games with his shooting, dribble penetration or passing ability.
Chauncey Billups is a great point guard too, but he is pushing 35 years of age and his on ball defending is not where it used to be. He would struggle to keep up with D-Rose's quickness and agility with the ball in his hands and now that Boozer and Noah are finally on the court together, it could make life that much easier for the former Memphis Tiger.
Right now, the Knicks are not matched up with the Bulls in the first round, but they could still draw them if the Heat get back on track and make a late push. Either way, if the Knicks win their first round series a meeting with the Bulls is inevitable, as this team has very realistic championship aspirations, and Rose will be there to make sure this team is playing at a high level every game.
I know a lot of you may be shaking your heads at this one, and I will admit I was hesitant to add him to my list, but Ryan Anderson is a guy who causes matchup problems for any team who plays the Magic.
He is listed at 6'10" and he can shoot the trey with the best of them. He seems to float around the perimeter and catch defenses napping every game with his quick release and smooth rhythm.
Amar'e is a good defender in the low and high post, but he is not a guy who goes out and guards men outside the key, so having to worry about Anderson's deadly trigger could cause a quandary for him and the Knicks as a whole.
This season, Anderson is averaging about 11 points and five rebounds, but against the Knicks, he has posted games of 14 and 16 points to go along with seven total three pointers made. He had a few big shots in their last meeting that helped Orlando overcome some early game issues and could be a guy to worry about if the Knicks see Stan Van Gundy and company this spring.
Allen may have struggled in the first matchup with New York, but he sparkled in the second game, scoring 26 points and nailing four trifectas en rout to a dramatic victory.
In my opinion (in most people's opinions), Ray Ray is the purest shooter this league has ever seen. Hes as smooth as a baby's bottom with a release quicker than Eric Spoelstra took back his comments about players crying after the loss to the Bulls.
I love the work Landry Fields has done this year. He is the best rebounding guard in the league this year and he is averaging over 10 points per game. If Blake Griffin wasn't wrongfully considered a rookie this season, Fields would be a front runner for the rookie of the year award.
But, Fields is not the quickest to close on his man and has been exposed on defense over the course of the season. Allen is a guy who you can't blink an eye when guarding and I can't help but think that once the playoffs come, he will be at top form.
I hate to pick on Landry again, I really do, but Jamal Crawford is a guy I love to watch and someone who seems to just know how to put the ball in the basket in any situation.
The reigning sixth man of the year hasn't lived up to his 2009-2010 self, but he is dangerous with the ball in his hand and if the Knicks somehow see the Hawks in the playoffs, I don't really see anyone on Atlanta causing New York any concern besides Crawford.
A player coming off the bench fresh against a team that lacks depth makes me worry that the Bockers will be caught a little off-guard by the energy. He hasn't done much damage against the Knicks this year, but he is bound to catch fire at some point and I firmly believe he is a force to be reckoned with.
As I said before, Carmelo is as talented as you can be on offense, but his defense needs some work.
Deng is the third option on offense for the Bulls, which is why I think he is even more dangerous. While Stat is busy worrying about Boozer and/or Noah, Deng is a slippery player who drains shots from the corners and can get the hoop with ease. He has the size and length to rise over Carmelo in a one on one situation, not to mention he has Derrick Rose passing him the ball.
I think this matchup can hurt the Knicks more because of the other options on the floor for Chicago, rather than Deng being too much to handle on offense.
After watching the last Orlando-New York game, its hard to argue this one.
Howard went absolutely bonkers, scoring 30 points and pulling in 16 rebounds in a dominating performance. D'Antoni threw everything he had at Howard, literally. Dwight got to the line again, again, and again, getting virtually every Knicks big man in foul trouble.
His pure strength and improved offense in the post makes him practically unstoppable in the paint where he seems to spend most of the game. I know Stoudemire is a good defender at times, but even he lacks the size to body Howard in the lane. And if he can't do it, Shawne Williams, Jared Jeffries and Ronny Turiaf sure as hell can't either.
New York has a lack of size and if they see the Magic in the postseason, they better send two (or three) guys at Howard every time he gets a touch down low and make other guys beat them.
Rajon Rondo's success against the Knicks this season cannot go unnoticed.
In their two wins versus NY this seasons, Rondo has gone off, averaging 10 points, 19 assists and over six rebounds. He recorded a triple-double in the first win and continues to improve his game each day. He is still young, but is surrounded by a veteran presence that makes his job a lot easier.
Although I think the Jeff Green-Kendrick Perkins trade will hurt the Celtics in the long run, it makes Rondo even more lethal because Green is more athletic and much more versatile on the offensive end.
No matter what has happened in the past week, or in the past two games against New York, Dwyane Wade is still a top five scorer in this league who has clutch written on his back. Other than this year—in which no player with a Heat jersey can seem to score when it matters—Wade has risen to the occasion, seeming to score at will when his team needs him to.
His role is different with LeBron and Chris Bosh in town now, but he is still just as athletic and has as much confidence to get to the bucket as anyone.
The Knicks bottled him up last time they met up, but Dwyane Wade will be Dwyane Wade, and you can't cage the beast forever.
I feel like in the bat of an eyelid, LeBron has turned from "LeBeast" to "LeLeast".
Miami has lost five in a row and James has struggled down the stretch to finish games, something that he needs to improve on if he expects to be the star for this team in the future.
With that said, he did mention in his post-game interview that if the Heat lose every game for the rest of the year they will probably make the playoffs.
He was wrong. They will make the playoffs if they lose every game from here on out.
Either way, James has the size, speed, strength and overall gall to outplay anyone in the NBA. The Knicks do not pride themselves on defense—they have shown up as of late though—and I don't see how anyone, let alone New York can contain James in a seven game series.
Phil Lombardo is a Featured Columnist for the New York Knicks. Any thoughts or comments would be much appreciated. Be on the lookout for more articles to come.