What a difference a week makes.
With most of the basketball world getting ready to prepare the obituary for the Knicks’ 2013-14 season days ago, the team managed to win their last three games in emphatic fashion – sneaking right back into the playoff race. And with some very winnable games on the schedule ahead, the Knicks suddenly have a new lease on life.
The Knicks have opted to play bigger over the past four games, inserting Amar’e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith into the starting lineup. As a result, the team’s shooting percentage has gone up and they’re allowing less points – though, despite the increase in size, they are still getting destroyed on the boards.
And while the turnaround is largely being credited to the new starting five, the opposition being less than stellar certainly helps. Then again, when your record is 24-40, no win should be taken for granted.
A dreadful 7-25 against teams .500 and above, the Knicks will have a few more opportunities this week to take advantage of weak opponents as they won’t play a team with a winning record before next Wednesday – and then not again until the final weekend of March.
If the Knicks are going to make a run at the postseason, now is the time.
The Philadelphia 76ers make the short trip to New York on Monday accompanied by a 16-game losing streak and just two wins in their last 24 games – one of which was a victory over the Knicks the last time the two teams played. It’s not so much that the Sixers are losing games during that stretch, they’re getting obliterated in the process. Nothing with the Knicks has been a given this year, but a win against Philadelphia to start the week seems all but certain.
Wednesday’s game in Boston could prove to be a bit more difficult – as the Celtics have surprisingly won their last two games against the Brooklyn Nets and Detroit Pistons, respectively – but if the Knicks can’t beat Boston, they don’t belong in the playoffs anyway.
And as bad as the Knicks have been in day games this season, it shouldn’t matter what time Saturday afternoon’s meeting at home against the Milwaukee Bucks takes place. The Bucks currently own the NBA’s worst record, though one of their 12 wins came against the Knicks in Milwaukee just a month ago.
Given the three-game winning streak – which has the potential to balloon to six games by the end of the week – the vibes surrounding the team are as good as they’ve been in a while. At least for now, the Knicks can focus on playing basketball and not who is getting traded, the fate of coach Mike Woodson or where Carmelo Anthony will sign next season.
But since it seems like there has to be one major story overshadowing the team at all times, legendary coach Phil Jackson’s name has emerged as a possible addition to the front office.
Understandably, Jackson’s potential hire has fans buzzing about the possibility of what he brings to the table. Jackson won two NBA championships as a player with the Knicks and another 11 NBA titles as head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers – so a winning resume isn’t an issue.
However, before fans get too excited, they should understand that Jackson, while a great player and coach, has never been the architect of a championship team nor has he ever been part of a rebuilding project. Additionally, not to discredit Jackson's accomplishments, but it’s a lot easier to win when you’re blessed with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen or Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal on your roster as opposed to Anthony and a bunch of question marks.
And perhaps the biggest elephant in the room is owner James Dolan. If Jackson is to join the front office, he’ll likely demand complete control of player personnel decisions – something Dolan has never fully granted in the past.
Again though, before going too deep into weighing the pros and cons, Jackson joining the team in any capacity is far from definite at this point.
What is definite is, with 18 games left to play, the Knicks’ season isn’t over just yet. And considering how much that differs from just a week ago, that’s reason enough to be optimistic.