As the New York Knicks struggled, their fans were starved, clinging to hope that someone or something would resurrect the franchise. And after years of failure, the Knicks appear to be back on track. While they haven’t exactly proved themselves as elite, they have certainly quenched the need for success in New York City.
The Knicks are currently in second place in the East, as Carmelo Anthony has taken the city on a very fun ride this season, one that is going to last for a while. The Knicks are looking at a favorable playoff matchup right now and while they don’t seem to be the best in the East, they are having a very good year and proving that they can do a lot. The NBA Finals is even a possibility for them, which is absolutely incredible.
Why? Because before last year, when the Knicks managed one tight victory in the first round of the 2012 playoffs against the eventual champion Miami Heat, they hadn’t won a playoff game since 2001. So even thinking about them winning 12, or even 16, playoff games in one season is just remarkable.
But just because something is realistically possible doesn’t mean it will happen. The Knicks have a lot of work to do and that includes wrapping up a high seed in the East and taking care of business in the playoffs. It may seem simple, but finishing in second place and winning playoff games is no easy task for any team.
Right now, New York stands at 32-18, 1.5 games ahead of the Indiana Pacers and 3.5 games behind the Heat. They are sitting pretty in second place and they even have a chance at overtaking the Heat and becoming the first seed by the end of the year. While I highly doubt it will happen, it’s still a possibility.
While it seems like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and the Heat can just roll over the Knicks, it hasn’t gone down that way when the two teams have met. The Knicks have faced and beaten the Heat two times this year, both blowouts. New York won by 20 in both games and one was at American Airlines Arena in Miami. Miami beat New York in five games last year in the playoffs, but this year, it has been a different story between the two teams.
However, there aren’t any stats that explain how the Knicks have obliterated the Heat. Both are bad rebounding teams, as the Knicks have a -1.0 rebounding differential (per game) and Miami’s rebounding differential is -1.7. Miami is 12th in opponent points and New York is eighth, while the Knicks are ninth and the Heat are fourth in points scored. Miami is tied for third in points differential (per game again), with a noteworthy mark of +6.4. The Knicks are fifth with a mark of +4.8.
Miami and New York are great teams which have the ability to go places. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals, with the Heat likely hosting four of the seven games. For the record, the Heat are 23-3 at home, although one of their home losses came at the hands of the Knicks.
But to get to the Eastern Conference Finals, New York will have to win eight games. They’ll likely be matched up with the Milwaukee Bucks or Boston Celtics in the first round, both manageable matchups. The Celtics are old and lacking Rajon Rondo and the intimidation factor they had when they fell just short of the NBA Finals last season. I doubt they will be going anywhere, and the same goes with the Bucks, owners of a -1.0 points differential.
Milwaukee is 17th in opponent points and 13th in points scored, suggesting it is an average team. The Celtics are 10th in opponent points and 18th in defense, but also 29th in total rebounds with a horrid rebounding differential of -3.6. Both teams have weaknesses and the Knicks can exploit them. They will have home-court advantage and they also have the best weapon for momentum: the 3-ball. New York averages 11.1 made 3s per game, best in the league.
How about the Bucks and Celtics? Milwaukee averages 6.5 made 3s per game, while Boston averages 5.6. That’s about half of 11.1, meaning that Boston (and Milwaukee) are both horrible from 3-point range. You may say that this is because they don’t take a lot of 3s, but neither team makes 35 percent of their 3s.
Overall, the Knicks are better and should beat both of these teams. But in the second round, they will have a harder test. The Pacers or Chicago Bulls will likely be the opponents and both are threats. According to ESPNChicago, Derrick Rose will start playing five-on-five after this weekend. One source in the article states that there is a “50-50″ chance of Rose returning this season.
Even without its star point guard, Chicago has found success. The Bulls aren’t scoring, as they are 27th in the league with a mere 93.6 PPG (points per game). However, they have a +1.7 point differential and are third in opponent points, adding up to a 30-22 record. While the Bulls are fifth in the East, they are just a half-game behind the Brooklyn Nets and they can easily pass them, and even the Pacers for the third seed.
Indiana is also built around defense, as they allow a miniscule 90.1 PPG. If the Knicks and Pacers meet, it will be a nice clash between a very good offense and very good defense. The same goes if they meet Chicago, although I think the Knicks can beat the Bulls. Even if Rose is back, he will be hurt and Joakim Noah can’t carry the Bulls past Anthony and the Knicks alone. It will be interesting to watch how Noah and Tyson Chandler match up, but I think Chandler, one of the NBA’s best defensive players, can minimize Noah’s impact.
On offense, the Bulls will struggle. They scored just 69 points against a below-average defensive team (the Celtics) Wednesday night and they will not score much against the Knicks. I think the Knicks will be able to handle the Bulls and I think they can handle the Pacers as well. However, both teams can beat the Knicks and it’s worth noting that Chicago is 3-0 against New York this year. New York is 1-1 against Indiana, winning by 12 and losing by 5.
Indiana is just like Chicago and they are even worse on offense, as the Pacers have a .429 field goal percentage, second-worst in the league. It will be a hard-fought matchup between the two teams, but I believe the Knicks can handle the Pacers. Indiana doesn’t have Reggie Miller anymore and while they have other talented players, there are no definitive stars. In basketball, you need stars to win.
Pacers fans could argue that Paul George is a star and while he is having a very good season, he is by no means a star. George shoots about 42 percent from the field and he’s not standing out in any statistical categories. Sure, he averages 17.5 PPG and 7.7 RPG (rebounds per game), but he is averaging about 22.3 points per 48 minutes. In comparison, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a definitive star, is averaging 35.9 points per 48 minutes.
The Celtics, Pacers and Bulls all lack stars and while Brandon Jennings is a good player, he isn’t a star and therefore the Bucks don’t have a definitive star. Not having a star doesn’t doom a team, but combined with things like poor defense, bad rebounding and bad shooting (all listed above) I find it hard to predict any of these four teams to beat the Knicks in a seven-game playoff series.
But I’m going to have to say that the Knicks aren’t making the Finals. I just can’t see them beating the Heat, as their defense will have to stop a potent shooting attack and the unstoppable James. The Heat could also trade for a center, which would eliminate their rebounding troubles. Both teams are about equal on the boards, but Miami is playing better basketball.
It’s hard to see the Knicks winning four games, one on the road, against the defending champions, in the conference finals. They don’t have experience as a team playing together in the playoffs, while the Heat have been in the last two NBA Finals with the same core. They have added some role players, such as Rashard Lewis, but no one significant. Just about every player on their team has playoff experience.
I’m not trying to crush the dreams of Knicks fans, but I’m trying to say that the Knicks are not going to the NBA Finals. They have talent and a solid all-around team and they definitely can handle the Pacers, Nets, Bulls and the best of the rest in the East.
However, the Heat are an elite team with an elite band of players and they are not going to back down. Miami has played in eight playoff series since acquiring James and they have won seven of them. They’re an elite playoff team and the Knicks aren’t.
What does that mean? It means that we will be seeing the Heat, not the Knicks, in the 2013 NBA Finals.
Thanks for visiting HoopsHabit.com! We’d love to hear your opinion in the comments section below!
Need great NBA seats at the best prices? Check out HoopsHabit’s NBA Tickets!
HoopsHabit’s Regular Column Schedule: