The Knicks have been playing without 40% of their starting lineup since March 24th. Power forward Amar’e Stoudemire — an All-Star in 2010-11 — has been suffering from a bulging disk in his lower back, and point guard Jeremy Lin had surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee on April 2nd.
To their credit, the team has managed to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race, going 7-4 since the two players went down. This stretch included notable wins over Milwaukee and Orlando (two apiece) and against Chicago in an overtime thriller on Easter Sunday.
However, with the playoffs starting next weekend, and the Knicks tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference with the 76ers — two games ahead of the Bucks for ninth place — their prospects for the postseason may be improving.
According to a source close to the situation, Stoudemire may be returning to the court this weekend. The source said that although it is unlikely he will play tonight against Boston or in tomorrow’s contest with New Jersey, Stoudemire may suit up either Friday versus Cleveland or Saturday against Atlanta.
It remains to be seen whether Stoudemire will be in sufficient shape to contribute at an optimal level. If so, he could give the Knicks the scoring dimension they need to advance in the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony is a superstar who can score with the best of them, but as Sunday’s game against Miami showed, he can’t do it all by himself (though sometimes he tries).
Chicago or Miami — one of which the Knicks will likely face in the first round — would clearly face more of a challenge against a New York team led by Anthony and Stoudemire. With possible Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler manning the middle and Iman Shumpert, who is starting to evolve into a perimeter stopper, the team has decided strengths. J.R. Smith and Steve Novak bring shooting off the bench, and Jared Jeffries provides gritty defense. This formula could be the makings of a first-round upset.
Should they manage to pull off an upset, it could really get interesting; by then, Lin might be ready to return from rehab to rejoin the team for the second round of the playoffs. While it may be tricky to re-integrate Lin into the starting lineup — a move that would bump Baron Davis to the bench — Lin’s blend of scoring and passing would be more of a test for opposing defenses.
While the Knicks struggled earlier in the season with the Lin-Anthony-Stoudemire trio, that came during a stretch that saw the Knicks hit rock bottom with the “resignation” of Mike D’Antoni. Once Mike Woodson took over, the Knicks re-invented themselves defensively (translation, put forth consistent effort), allowing more than 100 points only twice, each time in victories.
With all that said, the Knicks have yet to clinch a playoff berth, and can look forward to a few tough contests before closing out the regular season (Boston, at Atlanta, and vs. Oklahoma City). Should they hold on, we’ll see just how far Anthony can carry this team if Stoudemire isn’t at full strength.