Mike Woodson has turned the Knicks around this season. Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
The Knicks have a tough road in the first round of the playoffs, but it didn't have to be that way.
Up until about 9:30 on Wednesday night, the New York Knicks had an outside shot at entering the playoffs as the number six seed. It was a practical pursuit, given that earning the six seed would have matched the Knicks up with the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. While the Pacers are no slouch, it was a much less daunting task than what now awaits New York when the playoffs commence this weekend: a clash with either of the East's top two seeds, the Chicago Bulls or the Miami Heat.
Since the sixth seed was always a bit of a pipe dream, fans and media have been debating for quite a while whether the Bulls or Heat would present a more favorable matchup for the Knicks. The Bulls have one superstar player, a deep bench, and play excellent defense. The Heat have two superstars players, another on the precipice, are not deep, but also are an imposing defensive force. Either way, the Knicks have their work cut out for them, and they'll need to play near-perfect if they hope to advance.
The recent news that Glen Grunwald had officially been given the title of Executive Vice President and General Manager prompted many to wonder whether or not the same would be done for interim head coach Mike Woodson. With Wednesday's win over the Los Angeles Clippers, Woodson is making a heck of a case for himself. The numbers bear it out: The Knicks are 17-6 since Woodson took over, including a 12-1 mark at home. The've yet to lose consecutive games under Woodson, which bodes well heading into a seven game playoff series. Additionally, New York has become more efficient offensively under Woodson as well; while they're still struggling in trying to integrate Amare Stoudemire into the offense, Carmelo Anthony has played some of the best basketball in the league under Woodson. The Knicks are now running a playoff-style offense through Anthony, unlike Woodson's predecessor Mike D'Antoni, who preached ball movement and spacing through a dominant point guard.
It makes you wonder why the Knicks waited so long to make a change. Actually, D'Antoni resigned from his post, although it's safe to say the Knicks weren't exactly bolting the doors of the team offices begging him to stay. There's a case that can be made that the rise of Jeremy Lin actually halted the Knicks from finishing higher in the standings. It was when D'Antoni was seemingly on his last legs that he turned to the then-unknown point guard, who took an injured Knicks' squad and turned it around, momentarily. When the Knicks' best players came back from injury and joined the new Lin-D'Antoni revue, things went south again.
There are many (this writer included) who believed that not only was D'Antoni never a fit for the New York Knicks, but that a marriage between him and Anthony would never work. That became very clear, very quickly, but the Knicks still tried to fit the pegs in the holes. Had D'Antoni been gone earlier in the season, it's fairly safe to say they would have finished higher in the standings than seventh. Given how they have played under Woodson, they likely would be challenging the Boston Celtics for the Atlantic Division, and perhaps would have usurped them. If you extrapolate the Knicks' winning percentage under Woodson to the 66-game schedule his season, the Knicks would have went about 48-18.
Chances are, the Knicks wouldn't have actually played to the 74% winning percentage had Woodson been their coach all year, but they would have finished higher than seventh. Jeremy Lin may have been celebrating on the end of the bench with Toney Douglas and Jerome Jordan, but the Knicks would have been set up for a deep playoff run. If you think real Knicks fans wouldn't trade the Linsanity for a three seed and the cards set up for a deep run, you don't know real Knicks fans. Had the Knicks made the call on D'Antoni earlier, perhaps the ride wouldn't have been as fun. But the end result probably would have been sweeter.