On Monday, March 12, the New York Knicks dropped their sixth game in a row and fell to 18-24 on the season. That ended up being the last game Mike D'Antoni coached for the Knicks. Now, with Mike Woodson at the helm, the Knicks are a victory away from completely erasing the previous six-game slide, and inching closer to the above-.500 mark that this tumultuous season has been a struggle for. The Knicks can get back to even and win their sixth straight since the coaching chance on Friday night when they visit the Toronto Raptors.
In this wild and zany, truncated NBA and Knicks' season, perhaps what's more important than the Knicks' exact record is where they sit in relation to the playoff race. Currently, they are 1.5 games ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks for the 8th and final playoff spot. But after beating the Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night, the Knicks see a chance to snatch the division title, which would net home court advantage in the first round, and more importantly would avoid a first round matchup with the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat. The Knicks are an even three games behind the Sixers, who lead the Boston Celtics by just half a game for the division lead.
New York has turned its season around under Woodson. While who is coaching shouldn't be grounds for whether or not a professional athlete gives effort, it seems as though Woodson has prompted many of the Knicks to give more than they were under D'Antoni. Namely, the team's two star players Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have a renewed energy, and while both still aren't scoring as they're capable, Anthony and Stoudemire are both chipping in in different ways to help the team win.
On Wednesday, Stoudemire looked like his old self, throwing down acrobatic dunks, hitting jumpshots from range. Most pleasantly surprising was his block of an Elton Brand layup attempt late in the fourth quarter, a glimpse of what Stoudemire can do defensively given his supreme athletic ability. Anthony might be injured, and could be feeling the ill effects of offseason surgery as he continues to struggle with his shooting, but he's still a focus of the opposing defense and has been solid in his rebounding and passing.
The place in the lineup of Jeremy Lin was thought to maybe be in question when Woodson took over, but that seemed to be merely a media creation. And it looks as though it might have sparked Lin, who has played his most balanced ball of the season in the past week or so. Lin certainly has the skill set to play any style of point guard, and he's still essentially a rookie. In the win over the Sixers, Lin poured in 16 fourth quarter points in perhaps the Knicks' biggest game of the season.
The Knicks visit a Raptors team who knows about Lin all too well. Linsanity hit a fever pitch in Toronto on Feb. 14, when he hit a last-second three to bury the Raptors. three days ago, Lin dished out 10 assists in a one-sided Knicks victory. At 15-32, the Raptors are on the clear wrong side of the playoff picture.
With a favorable schedule coming up, the Knicks have the chance to blow past the .500 mark and stay there. But again, the real prize is the division title. With new leadership, a new voice and a renewed sense of urgency, the Knicks are beginning to set different, loftier goals.