Things are looking down for Anthony and the Knicks. Literally. They’ve slipped to third in the Eastern Conference for the first time this season and are watching teams around them get better, while they devolve offensively, defensively and emotionally.
The Indiana Pacers are better right now, delivering a swift kick to New York’s gut last week in a 125-91 debacle that was so much worse than even that score indicates. The Pacers have leapt to seize the second seed, already 3-0 since the All-Star break, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be easy to loosen their grip.
The No. 1 defense and No. 1 rebounding team has just been reunited with Danny Granger and may get better yet.
The Miami Heat have improved, if that’s possible. They are on a tear since keeping it close in the standings for most of the season. It seems almost like the favorites have been playing a game of rope-a-dope with the underdogs behind them.
What was once a one-, two-, or three-game lead has more than doubled in an instant. New York is now 6.5 games behind. Miami has won 11 in a row and is 16-2 in their last 18.
The Knicks, in the same periods, are 6-5 and 10-8. They just snapped their worst losing streak of the season.
Luckily for the them, their nearest rivals aren’t doing too well, either.
The Atlanta Hawks are making a push, also 3-0 since the break, but they’ve been relatively mediocre other than that. The Brooklyn Nets are playing exactly like New York: 6-5 and 10-8 in those recent ranges we're using. The Chicago Bulls are 4-6 in their last 10 and the Boston Celtics are streaky and now without Rajon Rondo (who kills the Knicks).
So it is looking like a three-team race in the East, or is it two?
Never mind an NBA title, Carmelo Anthony’s path to the NBA Finals, or even the Eastern Conference Finals has gotten tougher.
Sure, the Knicks are 2-0 against the Heat, but based on what we’ve been seeing lately, that’s not how the final two games in the series are going to play out. And after an early-season win against the Pacers, Indiana has just put New York to bed in last two.
Once, fans and pundits alike would say “The road to the NBA Finals goes through Miami.” But it goes though Indiana, too.
And we haven’t even addressed the myriad of ailments plaguing the Knicks. Ironically, Carmelo Anthony has little to do with New York’s malaise, and there’s not much he can do about it, either.
Other than a nine-point truncated outing against the Sacramento Kings, Anthony has been scoring at his season average (28.5) over the 18-game range. Ball hogging is less of a problem: He’s averaging more assists. He has more rebounds and three-pointers, too.
Rather, it’s the other key cogs in the machine—the ones that helped Anthony deliver a 21-9 start—that have broken down around him.
And that is making things really tough for Anthony and the Knicks.
In December, Jason Kidd was portrayed as the heart of the Knicks' success by Ian Begley of ESPN:
If there has been one common theme throughout the Knicks' surprising 20-7 start, it's that Kidd has made a subtle—but vital—impact on nearly every win.
But now, per the Daily News’ Filip Bondy:
Kidd is in his 19th season, and it isn’t always easy watching him play basketball anymore. That confident jumper from early this season has vanished completely…He will turn 40 next month and…has looked every bit his age.
Rasheed Wallace, also a key cog in the Knicks’ early success and bringer of the rare defensive game in these parts, is also showing is age…when he shows his face.
Wallace has gone from X-factor to ex-player almost, one active court sighting (running in practice) in over two months. And it’s not looking any better.
Raymond Felton, who successfully turned the Knicks’ backcourt attack around 180 degrees from last season, has simply not been the same since his pinkie injury. It looks like he’s nursing the injury and playing more tentative basketball, sticking to the outside and opting for less penetration.
J.R. Smith’s nightly shot selection has gone from “hold your breath,” to “what’s this guy thinking?”
Finally, Iman Shumpert was supposed to give this team a defensive boost. He has been unable to fill Ronnie Brewer’s shoes at the No. 3 on either side of the ball. Now, Brewer is gone.
Even with Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire playing to par, the Knicks need these other role players to get back in the game, like they were at the beginning of the season.
Without that, the road to the NBA title with not just be tough, but impassable.
And we haven’t even talked about who’s coming out of the West, where, today, the Knicks would be duking it out with the Denver Nuggets for the fifth seed.
All stats used in this article are accurate as of Feb. 25, 2013.