The New York Knicks have to actually make the playoffs before they can even start thinking about upsetting a No. 1 seed. But could the stars align for something truly improbable to occur? Could New York get the better of either the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers in a first-round matchup?
Even as the Knicks lost to the Washington Wizards 90-89 on Friday, April 4, their playoff hopes remained alive. And their hopes of doing something special upon getting to those playoffs are more alive than you think.
Just take a look at a couple of the other games that went down on Friday. The Indiana Pacers lost to the Toronto Raptors, 102-94. Since the beginning of March, those Pacers are just 9-11. They've lost the No. 1 seed to the Miami Heat and look susceptible to losing a seven-game series to just about anyone, save probably the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks.
The Heat aren't much better off.
They lost a double-overtime classic to the Minnesota Timberwolves Friday night. Getting edged out in double-overtime can happen to anyone, but there's no way Miami should be having that kind of trouble with Minnesota.
This is just the latest of Miami's struggles. They've backed up into the No. 1 seed only because Indiana is having even more severe problems. That's not exactly a testament to Miami's fortitude at the moment.
While New York still has a very real shot at the No. 8 seed, they aren't catching the Charlotte Bobcats at No. 7. Should the Knicks make the playoffs, they'll have to face either Miami or Indiana—whoever holds on to that No. 1 seed. Either scenario could leave us in shock.
New York beating the Miami Heat is pure blasphemy, but it's the kind of blasphemy we should probably entertain for a moment. New York did beat Miami back in January. On Sunday, they'll have an opportunity to do so again.
Miami would walk into a series against New York as heavy favorites, but something's awry with the Heat right now. The defense isn't as tough as it once was—the rhythmic system on offense is not clicking quite like it should.
What if the funk continues? What if it actually gets worse?
The Knicks match up well with Miami in some ways. Tyson Chandler is a very good pick-and-roll defender, and the Heat run a lot of pick-and-rolls. Iman Shumpert is the kind of perimeter defender who could give Dwyane Wade issues.
Carmelo Anthony is one of the few scorers who could outshine LeBron James over the course of a seven-game series.
Everything would have to go right for New York, but the more important eventuality is that everything very well could go wrong for Miami. It has been lately.
Given the Knicks' uneven defensive effort, they'd do well to play a team that just can't score. That's where the Pacers come in.
During one stretch in March, Indiana went six straight games without scoring more than 84 points. You could chalk it up to some fluky off games from Paul George or some other momentary hiccup, but the reality is that there are systemic problems with the Pacers. They have the second least-productive bench in the league, a sad commentary on depth that the Evan Turner acquisition failed to solve.
As for George, he may just be streakier than any of us wanted to admit. He's an exceptional two-way player with worlds of athletic ability, but the verdict on his shooting consistency is yet to be determined. If he goes cold in the first round, a team like the Knicks could take advantage.
The Pacers just don't have that many options. Center Roy Hibbert has a solid post-game, but defending the post is Tyson Chandler's bread and butter.
And it's hard to argue David West is playing better than Amar'e Stoudemire at the moment.
The series would likely come down to which small forward shows up. Does George turn things around, or would the series serve as another opportunity for Anthony to put New York on his back as he's often to do. You have to like Melo's odds. In turn, you also have to like the Knicks'.
Does New York Have What It Takes?
Let's face it. The Knicks have been wildly inconsistent this season. They've had moments of greatness, highlighted by an eight-game winning streak in March. They've had moments they'd like to forget, like a 127-96 loss to the woeful Los Angeles Lakers—a loss so bad that Phil Jackson left early to walk his dog.
But here's what we know about the Knicks.
Anthony can take things to another level. He knows what it means to turn on the afterburners in the postseason. He's been there and done that.
Stoudemire is playing his best basketball in two seasons at the moment (16.9 points per game in March). J.R. Smith looks to be getting hot at just the right time (45 percent from the field in March). According to the New York Post's Fred Kerber, Phil Jackson thinks Smith could be a difference-maker:
As Phil Jackson discussed everything just short of his favorite recipe for key lime pie Thursday, the conversation turned to suggestions the Knicks could be dangerous in the playoffs. Jackson agreed. And the first reason that tumbled from his mouth was J.R. Smith..."Well, with J.R. playing at the level he’s playing at now, yes," Jackson said.
If these trends continue, the Knicks will make the playoffs, and they just might make some uncanny noise when they get there.
Yes, that sounds crazy. But we've seen crazy happen in this league before, especially when the New York Knicks are involved. In 1999, the Knicks made it all the way to the NBA Finals as the No. 8 seed.
The No. 1 seed that year? An impressive Miami Heat squad led by Alonzo Mourning. The No. 2 seed? Why the Indiana Pacers of course.
The eerie symmetry doesn't mean anything of course, but it's a reminder that weird things happen. That's good news for the Knicks.
They need all the weird they can get right now.