By Max Marcilla
For the first time in 19 years, the Knicks are Atlantic Division Champions. Since that year, six teams have won the division, including the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic, who are no longer in the division now. It has been a long journey, especially for the die-hards that stuck with the team since then, but the journey (at least for now) has a sweet ending.
The Knicks won the division in great style, an all-around superb performance in a blowout on their home floor, which also happened to be their 13th straight win. The Knicks were heavy favorites, but like the media was saying all weekend, you can’t underestimate a team with a player like John Wall. It sure didn’t look like New York underestimated the Wizards, as they played one of their best games of the season.
Every single player had a great game. Pablo Prigioni stood out in my mind. After a struggle on the west coast trip, Coach Mike Woodson tried to change things up by putting Prigioni in the starting five. Little did he know that only a few weeks later, Prigioni and the Knicks would be 13-0 in his 13 starts. Prigioni has exceeded his expectations. When he is on the court, the ball moves flawlessly and he always sets up players for open shots.
However, it hasn’t been just Prigioni that has made an impact passing the ball, but also (somewhat surprisingly) Carmelo Anthony. He has made his mark scoring the ball, but he has showed signs of developing into a great passer. Ever since he started to get doubled and tripled-teamed, he has passed the ball out willingly, and he has delivered assists to open teammates. Anthony ended with 6 assists and 36 points without playing a minute in the fourth. With the offensive outburst, this game marks the fifth straight game that Anthony has scored 35+ points. The last person to accomplish that feat was Kobe Bryant in 2007.
Another guard that helped move the ball was Raymond Felton. He ended with 8 dimes, as he ran the offense with fluidity. Felton looks like an entirely different player then last year, as his chemistry with his teammates has enabled him to step up and be the quality starter he was always capable of being.
All in all, the most positive sign that I noticed was the Knicks ability to shoot three’s. With injuries to nearly every big man and a 4th quarter sprained ankle suffered by Kenyon Martin, the Knicks relied on a small line-up pretty much the entire game, but they showed they had the ability to score—a lot.
Obviously Carmelo Anthony was leading the Knicks offensively, but contributions from everyone sparked the Knicks to one of their biggest offensive outbursts of the season. Steve Novak (who held his own defensively at the forward-center position) scored 12 points and J.R. Smith, who has recently climbed up the ladder for 6th Man of the Year, finished with 17.
Most impressively, Iman Shumpert was looking good. Over the past month Shumpert has found his groove from beyond the arc, as he shoots consistently over 50%. Tonight, he ended up with 18 points, 12 off of three’s. What I loved about his game tonight was his ability to do other things to perfection. He was locked-in defensively, forcing numerous bad Washington possessions, had a block and steal and he also helped move the ball.
Now with the division locked up, the Knicks last goal for the regular season is to secure the 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The magic number for that is 3. This can happen as soon as Friday. However, the Knicks will face a tough Chicago Bulls team on Thursday in Chicago. The Knicks have struggled facing Chicago this year, as they are 0-3 against them. However, they were a different team when they last faced them. I look at this game as a test for how the Knicks will do on the road in the playoffs. If New York comes home with a win, it could be one of the most momentum-boosting wins all year.
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