(Article written before the Knicks played the Chicago Bulls)
Thank goodness the New York Knicks have started to light it up again! What they are currently doing is nothing but incredible. For the last the three months we have overlooked the Eastern Conference, simply because we assume no one can match up with the Miami Heat. Now Heat supporters have some concerns with getting out of the East.
The New York Knicks current 13-game winning streak has unquestionably cemented them as the second best team in the Eastern Conference (record of 51-26). Miami fans have gone from thinking, ‘We will stroll through the East’, to, ‘We will win the East, but shit, we have to get past Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks’.
You might be thinking, ‘Nah, the Knicks are just hot at the moment, they were a .500 for 30 games this season’. Yeah, but even with those 30 subpar games, they are still going to finish second in the East (again proving how crap the Eastern Conference is). The Knicks started the season 20-7, and just like any other teams they’ve had numerous complications that have needed to be ironed out.
The Knicks are the oldest team in league history, with the average age of 31.3; therefore injuries have become a factor. Big men off the bench, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby have missed large portions of the season. Recently Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin (who has been outstanding since signing a deal with the Knicks), have had stints on the sidelines. Amar’e Stoudemire has missed a healthy chuck of the year (sort of a blessing in disguise with his incapability to defend). Carmelo Anthony has only played 64 games, and key point guard Raymond Felton sat for numerous weeks after suffering a fractured finger and evidently struggled when he returned (I’ll get to why the word KEY was underlined and in bold later). Throughout this 30 game stretch, it also didn’t help that Jason Kidd was in a shooting slump and their roll players weren’t doing much.
When the Knicks are on, they can beat any team in the NBA. New York isn’t scared of playing anywhere, nor are they afraid to play anyone, there is an honest belief within themselves that they can beat any team. This team has a ridiculous amount of swagger, they ooze confidence.
Apart from their obvious defensive presence, Mike Woodson has implemented a simple, but massively effective offense. Whether it’s Melo down in the post, Melo or J.R. Smith going 1-on-1, Tyson Chandler pick and rolls, it’s fantastic to watch. Additionally, at any given time on the court the Knicks have at least three players who are more than capable of knocking down 3’s; Felton, Anthony, Shumpert, Prigiono, Smith, Copeland, Kidd, Wallace, and Novak (I don’t think Novak has ever stepped inside the 3-point line). Combine these shooters and the Knicks ability to move the ball; you have a lethal mix. In the Knicks 120-99 victory over Washington a few days back, they tied a franchise record hitting 20 3-pointers; they went 9/12 from downtown in the first quarter!
The Knicks clinched their first Atlantic division title since 1994 with their with the win over Washington. At the front and center of New Yorks success is Carmelo Anthony. Melo has been an offensive juggernaut since returning from his knee injury. Arguable the most gifted offensive player in the league, teams merely haven’t had an answer. Lately Melo has been putting on a shooting clinic. Over three games Melo tied a Knicks record, scoring at least 40 points while shooting 60% from the floor, something that has only ever been done by two other players (Michael Jordan and Bernard King). Watch below, it’s truly amazing to watch.
A truly incredible feat, two out of these three games were on the road as well. When Melo has the ball and Woodson spaces the floor with 3-point shooters, the Knicks are tremendously difficult to stop. Furthermore, in the last 13 games Melo has gone 80/131 (61.06%), and 15/22 from downtown (68.18%)! These numbers are stupid crazy.
What’s just as hard to stop? A confident J.R. Smith. There is debate surrounding the Sixth Man Award, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if we saw J.R. take it out. Smith’s game has altered this season, he has always had the ability to shoot, pass and get to the hole.
Yet what has truly elevated his game to a whole new level this season is his decision-making and leadership, on and off the court. Smith’s effortless skill of getting hot and taking over games is more frequent than ever. Smith was named Conference Player of the Week for the games played from March 25th – March 31st. During that week Smith and the Knicks went 4-0, with two wins over Boston, one over the Grizzlies, and one over the Charlotte Bobcats. Throughout that stretch Smith averaged 29.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals, had three 30 plus games, and a season high 37 points against Charlotte; all of which he came off the bench.
The last time a bench player scored 30 or more points in successive games was Ricky Pierce in 1990. Additionally, since the Knicks 13 game-winning streak began on March 18, Smith is shooting 49 percent while averaging 23.2 points per game. His free throw attempts have also rocketed from 3.2 to 7.2 per game.
When Melo and Smith are scoring at this ridiculous rate, the Knicks are as tough as any team to defeat. Throw in Raymond Felton at his best, and they are near impossible. Felton is simply underrated. Raymond is one of the smartest basketball players in the league. We have seen over the years that he is a player who thrives when he is comfortable off the court. If Raymond is healthy and content outside the arena, it massively adds to the dynamic of the team. His decision-making is impeccable; his ability to play the pick and roll is outstanding; he can shoot the three; he comes up big down the stretch; he can get to the hole and finish; he finds the open man; and has an amazing knack for reading a defensive. Some interesting statistics I heard the other day: Felton has played 64 games this season with a record of 44-20. In these wins Felton is 45% from the floor, 39% from 3-point range. However in losses he is 38% from the floor and only 26% from downtown. Felton is the key to a successful Knicks team.
The New York Knicks are a dangerous and unpredictable team. They’re an unselfish veteran side that can shoot threes, have a huge defensive presence with Chandler and Martin, the lowest turn over rate in the league, two 1-on-1 players who can jack up 30 points at ease, an intelligent guard who can run the point, and a shitload of swagger. Sure Carmelo has the worst career playoff record in more than two decades at 17-38, and yeah he has only ever past round 1 of the playoffs once in his career, but none of that matters. Look at their statistics, they play a quality style of basketball and have managed this streak with an abundant of injuries to their big men.
I’m so stoked the Knicks have starting firing. The Eastern Conference has thankfully become interesting. Instead of getting a free pass, now the Miami Heat will have to earn they way back to the Finals.
The Knicks win by the 3, will they die by the 3? Can the Knicks win it all with their type of offense? Well, we are poised to find out soon. One fact we do know is that Miami Heat’s fans can thank LeBron James and their 3-point shooting for last seasons Championship.