Don’t Crown Knicks Division Champs Yet
New York defeated Boston 100-85 Tuesday night, moving one step closer to securing a first Atlantic Division title in 19 years.
The Knicks got big outings from Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. Anthony tallied 29 points and eight rebounds, while Smith came off the bench and scored a game best 32 points.
Mike Woodson’s side was +16 with Anthony on the floor and +17 when Smith took to the hardwood.
Boston meanwhile was foiled by turnovers. The Celtics gave the ball up 19 times, compared to the Knicks’ eight times, and was beaten 15-7 on the offensive glass. These two shortcomings proved too much for the Kevin Garnett-less Celtics, who actually shot better than New York on the night.
With the win, New York (43-26) moves into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, one game to the good in the loss column over Indiana (44-27).
The Knicks also move 2.5 games ahead of Brooklyn (41-29), currently sitting in second place in the Atlantic Division.
New York has not won the Atlantic Division since the1993-94 season, a year in which the Knicks lost 4-3 to Houston in the NBA Finals. The Celtics have had a stranglehold on the division since 2005’s realignment, finishing first in six of eight seasons, including the last five. New York is very close to prizing the division title away.
But don’t make the mistake of crowning the Manhattan side champions just yet.
With the Knicks just 2.5 games ahead, Brooklyn will be confident that it can catch, and overtake, its city neighbors.
Looking forward, Brooklyn has the more favorable schedule.
During the final stretch, the Nets will face opponents with a combined record of 376-468 (.445). That proves to be an average record of 31-39. Of the 12 sides, Brooklyn will face, only five have a winning record.
Meanwhile, New York will face 13 teams with a combined record of 465-446 (.510). That’s an average record of 36-34. Eight of those 13 teams have a winning record, including Miami and Oklahoma City, two of the top three teams in the NBA this season. Nine of the sides New York will face appear to be playoff bound.
Brooklyn has gone 20-6 (.769) this season against those teams left on its schedule. Furthermore, the Nets have not lost in any of the cities it will visit, nor have they lost at home to this season to any of those teams left to play.
This season New York is 14-11 (.560) against those teams remaining on its schedule. The Knicks are 7-2 this season when playing those sides in the venue that these games will be played.
If New York is to hold-off Brooklyn’s threat, it will need to take advantage of one extra game remaining on the schedule, as well as a more favorable home/road schedule. The Knicks have seven games left at Madison Square Garden and six on the road. Brooklyn has to contend with seven road games and just five at Barclays Center. Home advantage could prove huge.
Of course, it might be wise to question whether Brooklyn wants to take the division. While the bragging rights would be enjoyable for a short while, the current playoff picture doesn’t necessarily favor a second or third seed.
As it stands, an Atlantic Division win would set up a first round series against either Boston or Atlanta, while a second-place finish is likely to end with a No. 4 seed and a series against Chicago. The way the Bulls are playing, that has to be the favored opponent.
Still, with about three weeks left on the slate, there’s plenty of leeway and the Nets would do well to continue pushing for the division crown.
New York (43-26, 24-10 home) will host Memphis (47-23, 19-15 road) in the second game of a back-to-back on Wednesday night. The Knicks (-1.5) are favorites against the playoff-bound Grizzlies.
Brooklyn (41-29, 19-15 road) meanwhile will play the fifth game of an eight-game road swing, heading to the Pacific Northwest to take on Portland (33-37, 22-11 home). The Nets (+2.5) will be an underdog against a Trail Blazers team that plays much better at home.