I can’t remember the last time I entered a week feeling optimistic about the New York Knicks. Perhaps the first week of the season? Even then, it was dulled somewhat because of a lousy, uninspiring preseason.
Nonetheless, here we are, 33 games into the season, and I’m cautiously optimistic about the Knicks’ start to the new year. Beginning 2014 with the Texas Triangle trip, visiting the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Dallas Mavericks seemed like a pretty sure way to pick up three losses in a row. Instead, the Knicks surprised pretty much everyone by competing and winning in San Antonio, farting away what would have been an impressive win in Houston, and handling the Mavericks for about 48 minutes straight.
It’s kind of ridiculous that the Knicks are just 2.5 games back of the 8th seed and 5.5 games back from the Atlantic Division lead. This week offers some opportunities to make up ground, too.
1/7/14 – vs. Detroit Pistons
The Knicks really should have beat the Pistons back in November. Unfortunately, a bunch of stagnatin’ and procrastinatin’ put the Knicks in an early hole and didn’t allow them to come out of it.
The Pistons, however, are not playing so well as of late. Josh Smith is still frustratingly inconsistent/unwilling to do what he’s best at, Brandon Jennings still runs hot and cold every other night, and Maurice Cheeks, from what I understand, has a similar cluelessness as Mike Woodson about what lineups to play and when. As a result, Detroit has lost four games in a row and is 3-7 in their last ten games.
The Pistons are only slightly better in offensive and defensive rating than the Knicks — 19th in O-rating, 24th in D-rating to the Knicks’ 20th and 26th. Given the Knicks’ recent rejuvenation, they should be able to turn around their homecourt struggles despite the fact that Detroit is better on the road (8-8) than at home (6-12).
1/9/14 – vs. Miami Heat
It seems weird that the Knicks haven’t played the Heat yet this season. The last few years, there’s almost always a November and December match-up, but the NBA did it differently this time around. Normally, the Heat are a team to be feared, especially when you’re a bad team like the Knicks. But for some reason, they aren’t that daunting; they’re exciting.
Don’t get me wrong, the Heat are still miles ahead of the Knicks, but New York always manages to play them well. Last season, the Knicks beat them 3-1 in the season series, and the year before that, the Knicks still managed to find a way to win a game against them, despite eventually being knocked out of the playoffs by them.
There’s no need to run through the stats; the Heat are a top five team on offense and defense. But the Knicks think that they’re a top team, too. It’s kind of obvious, really, the way they play up and down to their opponents. I think the Knicks will at least get up for this game and be competitive, which is all we can really ask for.
1/11/14 – at Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers still have a slightly better record than the Knicks, but they’ve fallen off since that hot start. Michael Carter Williams has returned to earth since looking like the next coming of Magic Johnson (although MCW is still playing well), and the rest of us don’t look so foolish for wondering if they’d even win 20 games this season. Philly is 5-5 in their last ten games, though, and like I said, they sport a better record than New York.
When I looked at the Sixers advanced stats, I saw that they have a 98.5 offensive rating, which is really low, and they’re in the bottom ten in defensive rating. How is this possible, I wondered. Well, the Sixers play at, easily, the fastest pace in the league, averaging 102.5 possessions per game, which is ten more per game than New York. Advanced metrics actually make the Sixers look worse than they are because they average 103 points per game, but it falls down to 98.5 per 100 possessions, which, of course, is what offensive rating measures. That’s pretty cool.
If Philadelphia doesn’t run New York out of the gym (who wants to bet on a Carter-Williams triple-double that night?), then New York might have a real shot at winning!
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