Tonight at the Garden, the Knicks will host the Orlando Magic, the team with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference and considered the only real challenger to the Bulls-Heat consortium atop the standings. (Other than the Knicks, of course!) The Knicks will go into the game shorthanded, with Amar'e Stoudemire out (two to four weeks, made official this morning), Jeremy Lin out (with his knee issues), and Carmelo Anthony occasionally reaching at his groin in a non-ribald way. It'll be a tough win. In fact, you can probably go ahead and expect them to lose. Why? Because they always lose when they're about to get over .500.
On January 12, the Knicks stood at 6-5 after a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. That was the last time they've been over the .500 mark. But they've had four other chances to get over the mark, losing each time they reached .500. Let's take a look back at each loss.
6-6, January 16: Orlando Magic 102, New York Knicks 93.
Hey, these guys. This was the Knicks' third loss in a row, right toward the beginning of the collapse that would only be salvaged by Linsanity. This was during the maybe-if-we-squint-Iman-Shumpert-looks-like-a-real-starting-point-guard period, also known as "the only offensive play we have is to throw it into Carmelo in iso." The Knicks actually led at halftime before Orlando layeth down the proverbial hammer in the second half. Carmelo was 9-for-27 from the field, including 1-for-8 from 3-point range. Four days later, the Knicks would lose to the Milwaukee Bucks, their fifth loss in a row, and Jeremy Lin would notch a triple-double for the Erie Bayhawks of the D-League.
15-15, February 17: New Orleans Hornets 89, New York Knicks 85.
At this point, we're at the height of Linsanity. The Knicks have won seven in a row since inserting Lin at the point guard spot, they're preparing for a massive Sunday game against the defending champion Mavericks on Sunday, and the Kardashians are sending out Lin press releases. It's madness. A sleepy Friday night game against one of the league's worst teams shouldn't be a problem, right? Whoops. The Knicks are off all night — Steve Novak goes one-for-seven from three-point range, which seems impossible — and former Knick Trevor Ariza goes crazy, scoring 25 points. The Knicks suffer their first setback of the Linsanity era.
16-16, February 20: New Jersey Nets 100, New York Knicks 92.
All right, so this would be the coronation. It was Carmelo Anthony's first game back from injury and his first time in the starting lineup with Lin. It was also the return of the Nets, the team that had launched Linsanity. Unfortunately for the Knicks, Deron Williams remembered, and he torched the Knicks for 38 points and ruined the Anthony-Lin party. (As it turned out, that party would never really get started).
17-17, February 23: Miami Heat 102, New York Knicks 88.
The last game before the All-Star break, this was the matchup TNT was slobbering over: the big, bad Heat against Linsanity and the Knicks, the two most marketable icons in the sport at the time on the league's biggest stage. The Knicks didn't play terribly, but Lin sure did, hounded by a terrifying Heat defense that often guarded him with two superstars at a time. The Knicks had lost during Linsanity before, but this was the first time Lin looked like the 23-year-old rookie he was.
18-18, March 4: Boston Celtics 115, New York Knicks 111.
This was the crusher game, the Sunday afternoon game in which Paul Pierce crushed the Knicks' spirits ... again. If there was a game during which the Knicks veered off course from D'Antoni Linsanity to Carmelo Sez To Get Out, Mike, it was this one. This dispiriting loss kicked off a six-game losing streak that was only snapped when D'Antoni left the team. It was the lowest moment of the year.
You can actually find several low moments of the year on this list; every time the Knicks get to .500, they go through some sort of season shift that changes everything. Yet they keep fighting their way back to the mark. A win tonight would finally get them over that hump; a loss, and we're just gonna go through all this crap again ... if the Knicks are lucky.