The Knicks have had a bad habit of starting slowly in games this season, something that they've been able to overcome by raising their game over the rest of the contest.
Their season hasn't exactly developed the same way. The Knicks broke from the gate in a sprint, but they've come back to the pack over the last 25 games.
Now there are 32 games left in the regular season for them to put the finishing touches on their best season in more than a decade while setting themselves up for a long-awaited run deep into the playoffs. Their ability to do it will rely, in part, on the answers to the following five questions.
Can they handle the schedule?
The Knicks will be on the road 18 times in the final 32 games, including a five-game western swing that includes dates with the Warriors, Clippers, Nuggets and Jazz. When you throw in two games with the Heat and two games with the Thunder, among other tough matchups, you've got a grind that could rip a hole in division title hopes if the Knicks find their way into a rut.
What's the deal with Rasheed Wallace?
Wallace is expected to practice for the first time this week after a long spell on the pine because of a foot injury, a development that looms much larger for the Knicks' hopes than anyone would have imagined when they took a flier on the veteran during the offseason. His interior defense has been missed -- they are 15-13 since his injury -- and a return to form would be invaluable to a team that has not been good enough at protecting their own end of late.
Can Mike Woodson keep everyone happy?
Iman Shumpert's camp is denying reports that he's unhappy enough with his role on the team to want a trade and Amar'e Stoudemire has been a good soldier about a limited role off the bench, but there's definitely some tension simmering about roles as the Knicks get ready for the second half. It doesn't help matters that both players are coming off injuries, leaving Woodson to do a delicate balancing act to maximize the contributions of everyone on the roster.
Will they make a trade?
Shumpert and Ronnie Brewer are the only tradeable commodities and Shumpert's the only one who is going to bring much value in return before Thursday's deadline, so it's not like there's a great chance of a trade. If they do, though, the Knicks will have to integrate yet another new face into the lineup on the fly and that holds the potential for a temporary setback that could drop their playoff seeding.
Stay fresh or go for the division?
The Knicks are an older team and it's been clear that players like Jason Kidd are more effective when they're given more time to rest their bodies, something else Woodson will have to weigh when making his decisions in the coming months. Beyond that, there's the fact that the Knicks are riding Carmelo Anthony as hard as any player in the league and the fear that their most important player could be exhausted come the playoffs.
Pushing for the Atlantic Division title guarantees the Knicks a good seed, but it won't be worth much if the team is running on fumes when they get to the postseason. The alternative could mean another first-round ouster, though, and that would leave the Knicks with nothing to show for a season that was filled with hope in November.