Knicks Finally Done; Raptors Look To Climb
Without even touching a basketball, the New York Knicks witnessed their postseason hopes slide away on Saturday, leaving the club to ponder what’s next.
Behind 25 points from Jeff Teague, the Hawks trumped both the bookmakers and defending champions with a 98-85 victory to move three games ahead of the Knicks in the win column.
Owning the decisive tiebreaker – a superior record against Eastern Conference opponents – means the Hawks can no longer be surpassed by the Knicks, and locks up the eighth and final playoff berth in the East. The Hawks will make their seventh straight postseason appearance, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference.
For the Knicks, all that remains is a trio of regular season games and then what looks like a busy offseason. New president Phil Jackson will have plenty of questions to answer and decisions to make, while players and personnel will be sitting nervously. Fans can forget about being placated by a lottery pick; the Knicks’ traded that to the Denver Nuggets as part of the Carmelo Anthony deal.
The Knicks’ season in general was a mitigated disaster. Terrible losses have punctuated the schedule since October and with four days left, it’s no surprise to see the side chin down and morose. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to go.
Last June, after Miami lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy for the second straight year, the Knicks were assigned 18/1 odds to win the NBA title this season. That ranked the side sixth in the Association. Sixth! By the middle of this week, the side could be sat in the bottom third of the league.
But before the team can move on, before Jackson can make his decision on head coach Mike Woodson’s future, and before Anthony will know whether the team really sees him as an important part of its future (trade bait, anyone?), the Knicks have to play out the season and, believe it or not, they can still have an impact on the postseason.
On Sunday night, the Knicks (34-45, 17-22 home) welcome the Chicago Bulls (47-32, 21-18 road) to Madison Square Garden.
The Bulls, looking to lock up the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, currently sit a game ahead of the Knicks’ division rivals, the Toronto Raptors, and would like to keep things that way.
The benefit of a No. 3 seed is quite obvious; the chance to avoid the Brooklyn Nets in the first round.
The Nets are 33-15 since January 1, including 21-3 at Barclays Center, and have turned into a legitimate threat within the conference. While the Bulls own a 2-1 series advantage over the Nets this season, one of those wins came before this extraordinary run of form. Avoiding the Nets for as long as possible seems like good practice for any team.
But then again, the Bulls are an Eastern Conference-best 35-14 since January 1 and have the right not to fear anybody.
Meanwhile, the Raptors (46-33, 21-18 road) will visit the Detroit Pistons (29-51, 17-23 home) on Sunday, looking to gain ground on the Bulls.
Despite being a game back of the Bulls, the Raptors have a huge advantage tucked away. Having won the Atlantic Division, the Raptors will finish ahead of the Bulls if the two teams finish with a tied record. That could be critical towards avoiding the Nets.
After Sunday’s game against the Pistons, a game in which they’re currently favored by six points on the road, the Raptors will host the Milwaukee Bucks (Mon.) and visit the Knicks (Wed.). That schedule isn’t exactly grueling. But then again, the Bulls will close out the regular season with a home game against the Orlando Magic (Mon.) and a road trip to the Charlotte Bobcats (Wed.). It seems quite likely that both teams could win out, which leaves things as they were.
Still, with games against both the Bulls and Raptors, the Knicks could still make an impact on how the Eastern Conference playoffs look when they begin on Saturday. Of course, that still depends on whether the team comes out with conviction over the next four days. After this season though, it’s all too easy to imagine the Knicks simply giving up and going home early.
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