The Knicks have squandered the opportunity to earn their way into the playoffs on their own merit through the first 78 games of the year. Now, with the team trailing the Atlanta Hawks by two games with only four games left to play in the regular season, all the Knicks can do is hope for a miracle – and it doesn't look good.
Atlanta still has six games remaining. Just three wins by the Hawks, or three losses by the Knicks, means Atlanta will clinch the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Given the relative ease of the Hawks’ schedule over the season’s final 10 days, it appears that Atlanta’s entry into the postseason is all but official.
The Hawks will play two very winnable games this week before the Knicks even take the floor for their next game on Friday. Atlanta gets the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics at home on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, which will likely put them one victory away from clinching. The Pistons own a mere four wins in their last 15 games – all of them coming against lesser opponents – while the Celtics have lost eight straight.
Whereas the Hawks still have games left against teams like the Pistons and Celtics – and even close out the regular season against the worst team in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks – the Knicks won’t have the luxury of seeing another team with a losing record again.
Both the Hawks and Knicks are in action on Friday, with Atlanta traveling to Brooklyn to take on the Nets, and the Knicks heading north of the border to play the Raptors in Toronto.
The Nets appear to be locked into fifth place in the East, giving them little to play for the rest of the way. And considering Brooklyn’s aging and ailing roster, that could mean very few, if any, minutes for the Nets’ top stars when they play the Hawks.
Toronto, meanwhile, currently sits in third place, tied with the Chicago Bulls – the Knicks’ opponent on Sunday. Like any other team, the Raptors and Bulls would like to avoid playing the Miami Heat – who the Hawks play at home on Saturday night – in the playoffs for as long as possible, giving both teams extra motivation to win out the rest of the way. Whichever team finishes in third wouldn’t have to play the Heat until the Conference Finals – should they make it that far. A fourth-place finish, however, would mean seeing the Heat a round earlier.
As luck would have it, the Knicks will play the Raptors and Bulls, two teams less likely to be concerned about resting starters, in three of their final four games. The Knicks’ other remaining game does come against the aforementioned Nets, who might view the postseason as more important than potentially eliminating the Knicks.
It was only a few days ago that the Knicks had overcome what was once thought to be an insurmountable deficit to pull even with the Hawks. But in the two games since, Carmelo Anthony has struggled with discomfort in his right shoulder to shoot a dreadful 9 for 31 from the field – scoring a total of just 23 points – leading to the Knicks being on the brink of elimination yet again.
One thing the Knicks do have going in their favor is not playing until Friday will give Anthony a chance to rest and recover.
Pointing the finger at the Anthony injury though, and blaming it for the Knicks missing out on the postseason, would be misguided. Not when there are countless other reasons for such a disappointing year.
Even though the Knicks have underachieved and been reduced to hoping and praying for outside assistance, it’s not over until it’s over. There’s a reason why they play all 82 games – or any other overused sports cliché you’d like to use which applies to the current situation. Regardless, the Knicks need help if they’re to get into the playoffs and they need it now.