There is no question that the New York Knicks are reeling. Their spotty play as of late has led to a string of bad, crushing losses, and those losses have piled up to the point where the team is back at square one. New York comes into tonight's match against the Orlando Magic at 35-35, and a loss would put them under the .500-mark for the first time since Nov. 9, when they were 8-9. It at one point seemed unfathomable that these post-Carmelo Anthony Knicks would ever hit the under-.500 mark this season, but that's a very good possibility tonight.
The Knicks have lost six of their last seven games, and the competition has not been spectacular. Four out of the six losses were to teams with losing records. And normally, no one would fault the Knicks for losing to the Boston Celtics as they did Monday night, but the way they lost raised a lot of eyebrows. Outscored 24-3 over the last seven minutes of the game, the Knicks looked lost, played tight, and frankly looked like a team that has tuned out their coach. It was a loss you would have expected from the pre-trade Knicks, a young, inexperienced, learning squad. These Knicks, while new to each other, are not individually new to late-game situations; at least their so-called "Big Three" of Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups aren't. Good teams lean on their stars in the most important of moments. The Knicks' stars didn't look very sturdy Monday night.
Tonight's clash against the Magic is big in many ways. It's become the biggest game of the Mike D'Antoni era. On the surface, New York simply needs a victory. One win can erase a lot of the negativity, and can quickly snap the team out of its recent funk. A victory against an especially good opponent like the Magic can speed up that process. But in a deeper sense, this game is important for the team's psyche and stability. Another late meltdown, and the team may start to lose trust in each other, and in its coach (if that hasn't already happened). A blowout loss, and the Knicks will look like a group of soft players, cowering in the face of adversity. Which will it be?