It has been a roller coaster season for the New York Knicks, who began the year exceeding expectations, then got wrapped up in Carmelo Anthony trade drama that seemed to drag on for an eternity, before finally pulling the trigger and acquiring him. The initial adrenaline of the trade had the Knicks rolling with their new roster before they hit an ugly losing streak, which had Knicksfans ready to jump off Madison Square Garden. Fortunately, the Knicks righted the ship to finish the regular season strong and recapture the #6 seed, setting the stage for a star-studded first round showdown against the Boston Celitcs.
There is no arguing that Boston hasn't been the same team since trading away Kendrick Perkins. They have lost a degree of their toughness and swagger. Jeff Green has struggled since joining the team and looks like nothing more than an overpaid 7th man. Boston has questions at the center position as Shaquille O'Neal hasn't been able to stay healthy and it is never safe to rely on Jermaine O'Neal at this point.
Regardless, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that Boston is still led by Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Rajon Rondo, four All-Stars who have won a championship together. They are battle-tested, very tough to beat at home, and showed an ability last season to kick it into a 5th gear when the playoffs started after everybody had written them off. They deserve to be the favorites, probably by a wider margin than they are right now in most sportsbooks.
This will be an uphill battle for the Knicks but there is hope, mostly based on the fact that Carmelo Anthony has the ability to take over a game on any given night and become the best player on the floor. Amare Stoudemire gives them a viable second star who can go toe to toe with Kevin Garnett on a nightly basis, and Chauncey Billups is a NBA Finals MVP who knows how to raise his game in a big spot. Those three players gives the Knicks credibility as a team capable of pulling off an upset, along with Madison Square Garden which should be rocking as it welcomes the first Knicks home playoff game in a decade.
The rest of the Knicks roster obviously needs to rise to the occasion, starting with Ronnie Turiaf, Shelden Williams, and Jared Jeffries giving quality minutes at center against whomever Boston ends up sending out there. Toney Douglas needs to provide instant offense off the bench but more importantly needs to hound Rondo on defense and turn him into a jump shooter. He should see a ton of minutes this series matched up on him and there is also chance we will see some Anthony Carter on Rondo, as the Knicks try to keep him out of the paint, where he is most dangerous. Shawne Williams needs to hit his open three point attempts and Landry Fields can't continue to play timid, even if he is playing limited minutes.
Stealing game one or two in Boston will go a long way towards determining whether this will be a long series or not. You can only imagine what the Garden will be like if the Knicks return home tied 1-1 and how much confidence the team will have picked up from stealing one on the road.
In the end, it would be unfair to expect the Knicks to win this series yet it wouldn't be crazy to believe they have hope for an upset. Either way, playoff basketball is back in New York City so let's enjoy the ride.