The Knicks haven’t made things very easy for themselves this season. And after failing to hold onto a 15-point halftime lead Sunday night against the slumping Cleveland Cavaliers, snapping an eight-game winning streak in the process, making the playoffs has become even more difficult.
Including an upcoming five-game West Coast trip set to begin Tuesday, eight of the Knicks’ final 12 games will take place away from Madison Square Garden. Though the Knicks have won their last four games on the road, their road record for the year is just 13-20. If the Knicks are going to complete their miracle turnaround after their season was presumably considered over a few weeks ago, they’re going to have to do it away from home.
The team currently trails the Atlanta Hawks for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by three games. As frustrating as the Knicks’ inability to put away the Cavs on Sunday was, they also squandered an opportunity to gain a full game on the Hawks, who had lost earlier in the day.
While the Knicks have it tough from a traveling standpoint in the coming days, Atlanta will have two difficult home games against the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers this week, as well as road games in Minnesota and Washington. The Knicks need the Hawks to start losing games in bunches and Atlanta’s upcoming schedule could very well give them three losses before the week is over.
Luckily for the Knicks, Tuesday’s meeting against the Lakers in Los Angeles should give them a chance to begin their trek with a victory. The Lakers – Phil Jackson’s former team – have lost 10 of their last 15 games and haven’t held an opponent under 100 points since prior to the All-Star Game. Given the Lakers’ current state, it’s pretty surprising that they didn’t put up more of a fight in trying to obtain Jackson’s services, as Los Angeles is desperately in need of someone to get the franchise back on track.
The following night, the Knicks will take on DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings. The Kings might have one of the worst records in their conference, but they did beat the Knicks at MSG just a month ago. Cousins ranks third in the NBA with 44 double-doubles and has the potential to give the Knicks’ thin frontline a lot of issues on the boards and in the paint. Point guard Isaiah Thomas can also pose quite the threat if Raymond Felton isn’t able to keep him in check.
On a positive note, Jimmer Fredette, who torched the Knicks for 24 points in just 27 minutes the last time the two teams met, has since been released by the Kings.
Just as the Knicks are in the midst of the grinding journey out west, they’ll have a pair of very tough games against the Suns and Golden State Warriors, respectively.
Though the Suns sit a half-game outside the playoffs in the Western Conference – making it a must-win game for both teams – their 41-29 record would actually make them the third-best team in the East. Among the best scoring teams in the league, Phoenix can be a bit weak defensively, meaning Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks could have a shootout on their hands in the desert. These are the type of games where Amar’e Stoudemire, who spent eight seasons with the Suns, is so vital as an additional scoring option.
Golden State, well-balanced on both ends of the floor, is the best team the Knicks will see all trip. The Knicks’ legs might be a bit wobbly playing their fourth game in six nights, which may lead to Stephen Curry having another big night against the Knicks. When the two teams met in February, he recorded a triple-double. And just last season, Curry lit up the Knicks for 54 points.
Finally, the Knicks will conclude their five-game swing next Monday on the second night of a back-to-back against the Utah Jazz. Utah has dropped 11 of their last 15 games, including a 27-point loss to the Knicks earlier this month. The combination of fatigue and high altitude have a better chance of defeating the Knicks in Utah than the Jazz themselves.
By the time the Knicks return home next Wednesday, the playoff picture should be much clearer. And while many assumed the Knicks would be playing for home court advantage and seeding at this point of the year rather than fighting for their postseason lives, considering where the Knicks were in the standings at the beginning of the month, it sure beats having nothing to play for at all.