Call it a pathetic, hopeful habit if you must, but one of the first spots dialed up on the web in these parts is John Hollinger's Playoff Odds Report at ESPN.com. The 8-3 December record for the Knicks has made for some heady thoughts and watching their odds steadily climb higher is a helluva way to make sure what we're watching is real and not some H1N1 fever dream.
And so, December 23rd was a pretty big morning. The Knicks now have a 53.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, which places them in the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. Since eight teams make the playoffs, that's a pretty swell spot to find yourself when you started the season with nine losses in your first 10 games. They've also got a 0.5 percent chance of making the NBA Finals, which is, much like calculus, the kind of thing that makes you realize that math is a mysterious, mysterious thing.
Tuesday night's 88-81 win was more of the same thing we've been seeing all month. The Knicks led big early, let it slip away and then held on after a key David Lee jumper rattled in, out and then in again. Par for the course, with the most interesting deviation being the referees' decision to call a foul near half court with three-tenths of a second left and the Knicks up by five. They reviewed the play for a minute or two to be sure the foul was called before the buzzer and then made Danilo Gallinari shoot a pair of utterly meaningless free throws.
Meaningless except for the fact that the spread on the game was five points. No suggestion that this wasn't an innocent case of a ref not using his head before blowing his whistle -- the game was over -- but there's a reason why people buy into what Tim Donaghy's trying to sell them.
At any rate, Mike D'Antoni has fully transformed to remaking the offensive wheel to playing a defensive style that wouldn't be out of place in Madison Square Garden circa 1994. The optimistic view of that change is that D'Antoni's a better coach than we initially thought because he's flexible enough to change courses when his roster won't allow him to do exactly what he wanted to do in the first place. The pessimist would say that the Knicks aren't very good, can't run a more interesting scheme and keep beating mediocre teams.
It's the rare case where the glass is half empty and half full. There are only five or six teams in the entire NBA that could be accurately described as "good" and there's no shame in rising to the middle of the mushy underbelly of the league by beating your peers. Especially in a season that wasn't supposed to matter anyway.