By Andrew C. Sutton
After winning on Sunday, the Knicks found out their first round opponent for this year’s playoffs: The Boston Celtics. Knicks fans will surely remember the last time the Knicks faced the C’s in the playoffs in 2011, the first year the Knicks made the playoffs since the 03′-04′ season, they lost to the Celtics in four games! To the delight of all New York fans, this season is a much different. The Knicks finish second on top of the Eastern Conference, while the Celtics finish in the seventh spot. This year was the first year the Knicks were the winners of the Atlantic Division since 1994.
Carmelo Anthony is having an MVP-caliber season, averaging the most points in his nine-year career, at a little over 28 per game. He has been voted Eastern Conference Player of the Week twice in a row, in large part to averaging 41.8 points the first week and 32.0 points the second. Carmelo is on fire, scoring 50 points at Miami, tying Knick-legend Bernard King for scoring 40 or more points in three consecutive games. When in close games like the Cavaliers game (won by 10) and the Thunder game (won by 5), Melo has come up in the clutch. As long as Carmelo keeps this streak up, the Knicks are going to soar in the playoffs.
J.R. Smith has been another top player recently. When the Knicks went to L.A. to face the Clippers, J.R. shot a dreadful .200 with 20 shot attempts, going 1-7 from behind the arc. As per Mike Woodson, both him and Smith had a discussion about his three-point taking and how he had to drive to the basket more. J.R. didn’t miss a beat, as he has completely changed his game. Since that Clippers game, the Knicks would win 13 straight only to lose to the Bulls in overtime. With J.R’s new found game, he has won an Eastern Conference Player of the Week award and now stands as the frontrunner for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
Raymond Felton has played well leading into the playoffs. He has let J.R. and Carmelo take the scoring, as Felton is averaging a mere 14 points and 5.5 assists per game. Without the pick-and-roll big man in Amar’e Stoudemire, Felton has had to adapt to the style of play created by Woodson without STAT or the rest of their bigs. Amar’e Stoudemire still has not played and was expected to be back by playoff time. With the start of the first round looming, it seems unlikely Amar’e will participate, or at least not in the first round. A big question all Knicks fans are terrified of answering is: Are the Knicks better off with STAT out? This question will come either playoff time this year or in time for pre-season basketball next year.
Tyson Chandler has battled with a bad knee and a bulging disc in his neck. Luckily for the Knicks, the 7’1″ big man will be ready in time for playoffs. In his absence, the free agent signing-of-the-year, Kenyon Martin has filled his place quite nicely, that is when he is on the court. Martin came down on his ankle wrong at MSG, pounding on the court in pain. All Knicks fans stood watching silently, thank god X-Rays were negative. He too will be ready in time for playoff basketball.
Iman Shumpert seems to have come back to form after recovering from a torn ACL in last year’s playoffs. His offensive stats may not show his recovery (Six points per game, three rebounds), but he is showing that his defensive intensity is back and he is statistically averaging one steal per game in only 21 minutes played. His defensive prowess is a must-need if the Knicks want to go far in the playoffs.
Since the Knicks made Kenyon Martin a part of the blue and orange, there have been no moves until the team released the injured Kurt Thomas in favor of Solomon Jones, the 6’10″ big man. Then he was later released. If that’s not enough, Rasheed Wallace abruptly retired due to his re-injured foot and the Knicks signed Earl Barron and Q-Rich to solidify the playoff roster.
Without Rondo, the Celtics will not be as deadly as they were in 2011. Though, the C’s bench seems very deep, the Knicks with a full roster are a very hard team to beat. Come playoff time, all players on the Knicks roster will be ready to suit up (minus the always questionable Amar’e Stoudemire and Pablo Prigioni with a sprained ankle).
Mike Woodson can have a field day sending out unit after unit with a full team, something he hasn’t had all season. Us Knicks fans are thrilled to be where we are this season. The pressure of the win-now philosophy is at stake. It’s Eastern Conference Finals or nothing for a lot of Knicks fans, and not being there since the 99′-00′ season, it will be a very exciting run, nonetheless.
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