The consensus among the experts is clear: The New York Knicks are playing their best basketball in years.
When the Knicks and the Boston Celtics get ready for tipoff on Saturday, their roles will be reversed from what the way we’ve become accustomed to. It is now New York who is the front-runner and the Atlantic Division winner, while Boston is the team that finished slightly above .500 and with a No. 7 seed.
Nevertheless, the experts can’t seem to get enough of talking about what a great matchup this series is going to be, just listen to Bruce Bowen and J. A Adande.
Bowen calls it an Eastern Conference Finals-type matchup and does his best to try and contribute to the hype leading up to the series. While the two teams may hate each other, the spirit of solidarity will be hanging over the series following the tragic events in Boston. It remains to be seen whether the two teams will allow the hate that Bowen talks about to resurface.
Bowen also states that the series could go to seven games, which is a lot more conservative than most of his colleagues on ESPN, who think the Knicks can get it done in five or six games.
On the other hand, Adande chooses to focus on a specific player rather than the team, and it’s no surprise that he puts the spotlight on Carmelo Anthony. Melo has only made it out of the first round of the playoffs one time in his entire career, and Adande wonders whether Anthony can keep playing the way he finished the regular season.
Adande makes a fair point, especially with regards to Melo having to become a “true playoff performer.” Postseason glory is the only thing missing from Anthony’s resume, and this is his chance to do something about it.
Next up are Ian Begley and Jared Zwerling from ESPN New York. The pair questions what the role of Chris Copeland is going to be in the series against Boston, as he may have to step up in the absence of Pablo Prigioni. Copeland is coming off two 30-plus points performances and could turn out to be an x-factor in this series.
They’re quick to point out that this is going to be a battle between New York’s offense, which is ranked third in offensive efficiency, and Boston’s defense, which is ranked sixth in defensive efficiency. Even though the Celtics have a history of playing at their best level when it counts the most, I put my faith in the Knicks’ offense which has simply been phenomenal at times this year.
I thought Zwerling made the best point with regards to Jason Kidd. A lot has been said about the Knicks’, and particularly Melo’s lack of success in the postseason, but having Kidd around is going to make a huge difference. He’s a veteran player with a championship ring and I agree with Zwerling that the Dallas Mavericks missed Kidd a lot more than they probably thought they would.
In one of the more expansive playoff previews you’ll see this year, The New York Times asked a variety of experts and writers to evaluate how far the Knicks could go in this playoff.
While the first two assessments are fan predictions that ooze of a desire for the Knicks to finally make it, the next one is a sober assessment by a certain Jeff Van Gundy, who declares that the Knicks will make the conference finals.
It’s always a relief to read those kinds of statements from certified basketball experts, and Van Gundy also makes a point of defending the Knicks’ age by stating that the four best players on the roster— Raymond Felton, J.R Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler—are not old.
While that may be true, I think Van Gundy is underestimating the importance of having a healthy bench, which might not be the case for the Knicks as they’ve struggled greatly with injury problems this season.
Howard Beck is one of the writers who is a little more cautious in his prediction and points to the Knicks’ defense as their Achilles’ heel. The Knicks are 16th in defensive efficiency, meanwhile eight out of the last 10 champions ranked in the top five. This is a problem that has gone largely ignored during the regular season but it might come back to bite New York in the playoffs.
I couldn’t get through this piece without talking about Stephen A. Smith. One of the co-hosts of First Take, Smith has spent most of the season being critical of the New York Knicks and famously told Spike Lee the team was going to lose in the first round, but lately seems to have come around.
Like Smith, I too couldn’t help to be impressed by a team that can beat the Thunder even though Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 55 points. What would have happened if the Knicks had a good defensive night?
Smith continued by putting the pressure on Carmelo Anthony in his latest column, urging the “viable MVP candidate” to lead the Knicks. In a year when LeBron James has been as dominant as any player in the history of the game, the “MVP candidate” compliment seems hugely out of place and inaccurate. We all know Anthony won the scoring title and he’s been on a tear lately, but that doesn’t change the fact that James deserves the MVP.
Toward the end of the piece, Smith writes that a “berth in the Eastern Conference finals isn’t too much to ask for.” That's quite the turnaround for someone who just a few weeks ago complained that he had given his heart to the Knicks so many times, but they keep on disappointing him.
Over the next weeks we’ll see if these Knicks are truly contenders or if they are going to keep breaking hearts all over New York.