This is the time to make a run. The 17-18 Knicks are only 5 1/2 games back of the 3rd seeded Indiana Pacers and 4 games back of the division leading Philadelphia 76ers. The Knicks are currently the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. They are headed for a first round matchup with the 28-8 Chicago Bulls. New York will be in the playoffs but they need to get out of the 7/8 seeds. Facing Chicago or Miami in the first round provides no benefits to the Knicks. They need to get a playoff series victory under their belt before facing one of the two elite teams in the Eastern Conference. In order to set themselves up for playoff success, the Knicks will need to go on a run in these final 31 games. That starts tonight.
The upstart Cleveland Cavaliers, led by star rookie Kyrie Irving, come into Madison Square Garden having lost 6 of their last 10 games. Unlike the Knicks, who have not played since last Thursday, the Cavs come into the game having played last night in Boston. There is no excuse for New York to come out flat tonight. They are rested, they should be hungry and they are more talented than Cleveland.
Here’s what to watch for:
- The Knicks are only 13-9 against sub-500 teams. Cleveland is 13-19. They are not a good team and the Knicks should beat them. However, New York always seems to play down to their competition. Cleveland has already beaten New York this year, 91-81 on January 25th. Even in the Jeremy Lin era, the Knicks have lost to some bad teams. They are 8-3 with Lin as the starter but 2 of the 3 losses came at Madison Square Garden about the Hornets and the Nets. The Knicks only have 13 games remaining, including tonight, against teams that currently boast sub .500 records. They cannot afford to lose any more of these games as they have to make a run to get out of the 7/8 seed.
- No Anderson Varejao! He’s out tonight! Woo! Why am I so happy about this? CAUSE HE HAD 10 POINTS AND 16 F***ING REBOUNDS LAST TIME HE PLAYED THE KNICKS. If the Knicks let Semih Erden put up 10 points and 16 rebounds, i’ll probably give myself a mad titty-twister tonight to show my anger.
- Will Baron Davis stop playing street ball? Now that he’s practiced with the team, lets see how Baron Davis plays. Davis, always the showman, has played his first 3 games like a Rucker Park teenager and he has struggled. For whatever reason, Davis continued to shoot against Miami despite the fact that he was 0/7 from the field. I think a lot of that was rust but with all these weapons on the team, Davis must channel his inner John Stockton rather than his inner John Wall. His job on this team is not to score 20 points a night. His job is bring energy, move the ball and assist his teammates. Obviously he’ll take some shots, which is fine, but he does not need to be forcing up shots with the teammates he has around him.
- How will Lin recover from his nightmarish performance in South Beach. Last Thursday, Lin took his talents to South Beach and he didn’t do very well. The asian sensation went 1/11 from the field and turned the ball over 8 times. More discouraging to me than his poor performance was his clear disappointment in his performance. On one hand, it is great that Lin legitimately cares about winning but at the same time, the Knicks cannot afford to lose Lin’s confidence. I don’t think it will be an issue moving forward. I think that was a bad game for Lin but he will make the correct adjustments and get back to playing at the level we are accustomed to seeing. I think Lin will play well but I am interested to see Lin’s body language if things do not go well.
- Amar’e Stoudemire has struggled. He hasn’t been able to shoot, defend or jump. He ranks 3rd in the league in shots blocked behind DeMarcus Cousins and Kris Humphries. However, Stoudemire and coach Mike D’Antoni both stated in the media that they expect Stoudemire to return to prominence in the second half this season. I think he will eventually play better. His play will be predicated around whether he can get his legs back underneath him and whether he can explode. Tonight may be a great night for him to get rolling. Semih Erden doesn’t do very well against Stoudemire…