The 11 Most Important Games of the Knicks Season Start Monday Night

Until the end of December, Knicks must play to win

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    It's been a while since the Knicks have had a week like the one that wrapped up with a 107-96 victory against the Nets on Sunday. They won three of four games with highly effective, highly efficient offensive performances that offered a glimpse of what the team's attack is supposed to look like with Mike D'Antoni running the show. It was also a week that made it safe to actually think about the playoffs being a part of this team's future.

    As bad as their 6-15 record looks, the Knicks are only two and a half games behind the Raptors for the last playoff spot in the East. And the Raptors, like most of the Eastern Conference, ain't that good. It's probably not going to take more than 35 or 36 wins to secure a playoff spot and the Knicks played well enough this week to make you think they could reach that level.

    Here's the thing, though: They need to know if they can make a serious run at that mark sooner rather than later, because it will greatly alter what they're trying to accomplish this season. This week's winning streak was spurred by playing Al Harrington and Larry Hughes at the expense of Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari. Odds are that they won't continue to play as well as they did this week, but odds also are that they'll continue to outperform Chandler and Gallinari. Making the playoffs will only happen on their backs and the Knicks have to figure out the balance between making such a run and developing their younger players.

    It would seem that favoring the youngsters makes more sense given the Knicks' goals, but it's not that cut and dry. Chandler and Gallinari are still going to log significant minutes if the team makes a playoff run, and they'll certainly gain something by playing in the first meaningful games of their brief professional careers. If they had a couple more intriguing youngsters and a first-round pick, the argument for punting the season would have more cachet. That decision can't be absolute, though, because this season will be a total bust if they ignore youth but fail to make a serious run at the postseason.

    The schedule sets up well for them to make those determinations before the start of the new year. They play 11 times before the end of December, with seven of those games against mediocre Eastern Conference competition. The Knicks that played the last four games should win most of those games, including Monday night's date with the Blazers. Portland's a good team, but they're starting a long road trip fresh off the loss of Greg Oden, fast becoming this generation's Sam Bowie, to a season-ending knee surgery.

    If they haven't improved their position in the standings by then, there's not much chance they're going to do so over the final 50 games. That leaves plenty of time to force feed the youngsters, explore deals to send Harrington and Hughes elsewhere for guys who could conceivably help the team beyond this year and resume their stubborn quest for LeBron.