As the playoffs approach, a familiar opponent is assaulting the New York Knicks slippery grasp on the eight seed. The Milwaukee Bucks and Knicks have been trading possession of the eighth seed back and forth for weeks. Suddenly, Milwaukee has emerged from the dead to re-enter the race.
After watching Carmelo Anthony’s 39-point performance in a loss to the Pacers it’s a foregone conclusion that Anthony plays his best when Amare Stoudemire isn’t in the lineup. Conversely, the Bucks two stars, Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings have been playing their best when both are in the lineup. Despite Carmelo Anthony's best efforts, the Knicks are reeling. Mike Woodson is coaching for his job while the New York media is offering it to John Calipari and instead of chasing the third seed in the East, the Knicks will have to fend off the surging Bucks.
Throughout the regular season, the Knicks and Bucks have embodied the tale of the Tortoise and the Hare. While the Knicks have been a fast-paced team for much of the season that has lived and died on a bevy of losing and winning streaks, Milwaukee has been forgotten in the storyline. Now, the narrative has completely changed. The Bucks are no longer ancillary characters in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They're slowly becoming the leading protagonists.
Since the Bucks acquired Ellis at the trade deadline and paired him with Jennings, Milwaukee has led the NBA in assists. That’s a span of 11 games. Meanwhile, New York is the NBA's worst in assists per game over their last ten. The last time, New York met Milwaukee, they defeated the Bucks and improved their record to 25-25. It was the first game that Stoudemire sat out and coincided with Anthony’s first 20-point performance in weeks. The Bucks fell to 22-27 and haven’t lost since.
However, the Bucks victory over the Cavaliers on Wednesday night leaves the Knicks just one game ahead of the Bucks for the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed. Against the Cavaliers, Ellis scored the Bucks final 16 points.
The Knicks have a three game stretch ahead where they’ll play the East-leading Bulls twice and the Orlando Magic once. Then, on Wednesday, they’ll meet the Milwaukee Bucks in a critical matchup on the road.
The momentum is currently in Milwaukee’s favor and this rollercoaster season is setting up for a disastrous ending if the Knicks can’t find their footing. The Knicks were assembled to compete with the Heat and Bulls. Instead, they’ve been reduced to clinging to the bottom of the playoff standings.
If the Knicks get beaten by the Monta Ellis-led Bucks for the final playoff spot, they can look to the end of his tenure in Golden State for guidance. Ellis’ style could not co-exist with that of third year-pro Stephen Curry so they shipped him off NBA Siberia in Milwaukee.
A step backwards in the Anthony-Stoudemire era would be a devastating blow. It would be even more embarrassing if the team, New York designed for four years were beat out by the Milwaukee Bucks. When you combine that scenario with Anthony’s stellar performances when Stoudemire is outside the lineup, it means the front office have to make a tough choice and trade one of their superstars. Like Ellis and Curry, this pair just cannot work together. In truth it’s not that tough of a choice. For all his deficiencies, the Knicks should choose Anthony over Stoudemire.
Since Stoudemire has been out, Anthony has rediscovered the scoring prowess that resembled the Olympic gold medalist that has gone missing in New York. The transformation was almost instantaneous but not surprising.
Overall, Anthony is averaging just 21 points per game and shooting 41% from the field this season but when Stoudemire has been out of the lineup, he’s averaging a cool 29 points and shooting an efficient 48 percent.
During the lockout, Stoudemire was mentioned in trade talks involving Chris Paul, and the Magic inquired about acquiring Tyson Chandler and Stoudemire in exchange for Dwight Howard. There have been hints for years that Stoudemire’s body would break down and as he approaches his 30th birthday, the front office should take note. The 2012 offseason may be time to seriously explore and execute trade scenarios involving Stoudemire.
In the meantime, the Knicks need to find a life raft of some kind. The battle for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot is a fluid situation but the Knicks are currently drowning near the frigid waters of mediocrity. If the Knicks don’t survive the regular season, it may be time to throw Stoudemire overboard.