By Kirti Chakote
If you’re from New York and some type of sports fan, how can you not notice what the New York Knicks (54-18) have accomplished this season? How about the team’s first 50-plus-win season in over 14 years? Or maybe the team’s first Atlantic Division title in over 19 years? And what about the fact that “Linsanity” is now an afterthought in Madison Square Garden? It’s a great time to be a Knicks fan or to join the Knicks fan movement as the team looks to make a deep run into the 2013 playoffs.
The team, led by coach Mike Woodson who is in the running for Coach of the Year, certainly has the momentum heading into the playoffs, winning 16 of their final 18 games. Even more impressive is that they accomplished this streak despite battling injuries of their big men, including Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby, who have finally returned for the playoffs. If you have been paying attention to the Knicks, you might have come across five crucial x-factors that will play a big role for the team’s continued success into the playoffs.
It begins with the Knicks’ solid point-guard play. With their triumvirate of court leaders, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Pirgioni, the team will have great game control that they have lacked in their past two playoff appearances. Felton has stepped up his game for the second half of the season, shooting nearly 47 percent, while decreasing his turnovers, and Kidd will provide the key veteran leadership the Knicks will need. Pablo is an agile defender, who was the team’s starting point guard during its 16-2 run.
Along with solid play at the number one position, the Knicks will need key scoring at the number two position, mainly coming from the play of J.R. Smith. Recently named the NBA’s Most Improved Player, Smith has been averaging a career best 18.1 points per game, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals. Even with these impressive numbers, Smith does tend to be streaky. Instead of jacking up ill-advised shots, Smith will need to take to the basket and head to the free throw line, as he has done of late during their recent winning-streak.
Possibly the heart and soul of the New York Knicks, Tyson Chandler has brought his ex-Defensive Player of the Year prowess to the team. His intensity and commitment to defense has been one of the main reasons for the Knicks’ significant success this season, and it will remain to be one for the rest of the post-season. It is important that this defensive monster remain healthy during the playoffs, with his bulging disk in his neck playing a minimal role. Hopefully he can maintain the same role he did when he helped lead the Dallas Mavericks to a championship in 2011.
The final and most important x-factor will be the play of the league’s leading scorer, Carmelo (Melo) Anthony. After capturing his first scoring title, averaging 28.7 points per game, Anthony has proven to be an unquestioned offensive juggernaut. Although he can score as much as he wants, a team is only as good as its weakest link.
For this reason, Anthony will need to continue to focus and develop the team ball. When the Knicks spread the ball evenly to all players, the team’s offense can almost be unstoppable. To continue this, they will heavily depend on Carmelo’s continued effort to pass out of double teams, and his ability to put together clutch fourth-quarter performances.
These crucial x-factors were put to the test on Saturday when the Knicks opened up against the Boston Celtics in their first-round match-up at Madison Square Garden. In the first quarter, Anthony scored a quick 10 points. From that point on, though, it was a rough stretch for Melo until the fourth quarter. The Knicks’ offense was stagnant for the rest of the half, and the Celtics took a 53-49 lead into the third quarter. In the second half, the Knicks defense stepped up and held the Celtics to 25 points and forced 21 turnovers. With a 72-72 tie and 8:13 remaining, Anthony scored consecutive baskets. Finally, with under a minute left, Carmelo had a key assist to Martin to seal the game. Although it is just the first game, Knicks fans should be optimistic for the post-season. After suffering through such heart-wrenching seasons, fans should believe that these playoffs could be different.
Even with some of their x-factors playing very little roles, such as Copeland, Novak and Chandler, the Knicks still pulled out a gutsy win, assisted with the wily veteran-ship of Kidd and controlled play of Felton and Smith. It is also possible that Amare Stoudemire will return from his knee injury to provide even more paint presence and added scoring off the bench at some point after the first round.
Knicks fans will continue to be on the edge of their seats as they watch their beloved team take the next step in the playoffs this Friday at 8 p.m. in game three of the series against the Celtics.