About a month ago, I gave the Knicks a chance, and even predicted them, to finish as the one seed in the Eastern Conference.
My, how things change.
Since that time, the Knicks have become decimated with injuries, the Miami Heat have won their last (1, 2, 3…) 22 games they’ve played, and the Brooklyn Nets have been playing very good basketball and winning some games themselves. In fact, it seems to me that the Nets will end up winning more games than the Knicks, and win the Atlantic Division. And theres plenty of good reasons for that.
Reason one: The downfall of the New York Knicks. Amar’e Stoudemire is out for the rest of the regular season (at least), and Melo and Tyson Chandler both have knee injuries which have been keeping them out of games. It just came out that Carmelo’s knee injury may be more serious than expected at first (as the Knicks are starting the look like the New York Mets), and we’ve been seeing Knicks lineups on the court where the youngest player was 35 years old. But not only are injuries killing the Knicks, the guys that are playing just look slower than their opponents, and just can’t seem to keep up nowadays. But as Charles Barkely says, you can’t be surprised when an old team looks old. And that’s exactly what’s happening. The Knicks are currently on a four game losing streak, and as much as I hate to blame a team’s poor performances on injuries, it certainly doesn’t help that the three best players on the team have been hurt. There’s no guarantee that Melo will be 100% at any point for the rest of the year, and that is just awful news for New York. The personnel they have besides their stars just don’t have enough in them to get the job done. I will say though, as outmatched as they’ve been of late, the Knicks have not been giving up. They’ve been fighting and really trying to win games for four quarters, which is promising. But it’s simply not enough.
Reason 2: Deron Williams. At the beginning of the year, D-Will was having a very hard time making shots and scoring points. His assist numbers were down as well, although not all that much, which wasn’t that worrisome considering one of his targets is Reggie Evans. Not to mention, the Nets play a lot of iso. Fast forward a bit, and over his last ten games, Deron Williams has been averaging 24 points while shooting just under 50%, with 7.3 assists and 1.5 steals. That’s the Deron Williams the Nets signed up for, and that’s the Deron Williams that makes the guys around him better and can lead this team a pretty far way.
Reason 3: Strength of schedule. Ok ok, again, this kind of sounds like a cop-out. But it’s just a fact. The winning percentage of the teams the Knicks have yet to play this season is 49%, while the Nets’ remaining opponents have a combined 46% winning percentage. While that may not seem like that big of a difference, to put it in more perspective, the Knicks have the 7th toughest remaining schedule in the Eastern Conference, while the Nets have the 13th hardest (and as a side note, the Heat have the easiest schedule remaining in the league. Ridiculous). Besides the fact that it’s usually easier to beat bad teams, this works against the Knicks and in favor of the Nets for another reason. If you look at teams that go on playoff runs and win championships, most of the time they’re teams that have momentum coming into the postseason. If the Nets can keep winning games that they’re supposed to, and the Knicks keep stumbling as they have been, the stretch run is going to be tough for the Knicks to hold off the Nets. And the way things appear lately, it does look like the Nets will be winning a lot of their remaining games, while the Knicks will likely lose a decent amount of their remaining tough games.
The Nets didn’t get off to the great start that it looked like they should have on paper. But since then, everything has been starting to fall into place, and they are well on their way to reaching their full potential. On the other hand, the Knicks got off to an extremely hot start, and since then, have come back down to Earth and then some. So yes, the Nets will win the Atlantic Division, and at this point, it would be hard for me to even say the Knicks will probably finish in front of the Celtics. It’s somewhat likely that they won’t. We’ll see how the season plays itself out, but with just one month left in the regular season, it should be a fun and interesting end of the season in the Atlantic Division.