The Knicks breezed past the Nets 104-95 last night in their last-ever game in New Jersey, unless the Keansburg Wawa is finally rewarded with that expansion franchise it has always deserved. The game itself was not particularly noteworthy: The Knicks got away with having Mike Bibby start because Deron Williams is out, they sort of fell asleep in the third quarter to allow the Nets to make it look like the game was slightly close for a while, Carmelo Anthony scored more than 30 points against, and Jerome Jordan got to play a few minutes. (Also: There were probably twenty times as many Knicks fans there as there were Nets fans.) But let's not focus too much on this game: It's over, the Knicks didn't stumble, and you'll never think about it again. Time for Late Season Perspective.
First off, last night's win lifted the Knicks to a 15-5 record with Mike Woodson, a stunning little statistic, particularly when you consider that they were 18-24 under Mike D'Antoni. (And that included the Linsanity run.) That means that if the Knicks can win three of their last four games, Woodson would have as many wins this season as D'Antoni, in eighteen fewer games. As discouraging as the D'Antoni move was to many of us at the time, it's impossible to argue with those numbers. Not that it'll help Woodson keep his job for next year — that's going to be decided in the playoffs.
Ah, yes, the playoffs. The Knicks' magic number at this point is one. They're three and a half games over the No. 9 Milwaukee Bucks with four to play, and they hold the tiebreaker. So, as long as the Knicks win one more game, they're in. So, they're in. They're also in excellent shape for the No. 7 seed: They're one game up on Philadelphia — who won last night while Milwaukee lost, putting them in excellent position to make the playoffs themselves — and hold the tiebreaker. They also lost any chance at the Atlantic Division title when the Celtics beat the Magic last night, so there will be no banner-raising. It's the Celtics' fifth straight Atlantic Division title; the last team to win the Atlantic that wasn't the Celtics was the Raptors.
So, the only real uncertainty: Can the Knicks, over these last four games (these last four games with Amar'e Stoudemire, we add, but we'll get into that tomorrow), sneak into the No. 6 spot and thus avoid Chicago or Miami in the first round? (Not that Indiana, the No. 3 seed, is a picnic, but it'd certainly be preferable.)
We think it's more possible than people think. The Knicks are chasing Orlando, who have a three-game lead with four to play. That makes the Magic's "magic" number two: Any combination of Knicks losses and Magic wins gives them the spot. (The Knicks hold a tiebreaker over the Magic because they won two of their three meetings this year.) Here are the two teams' schedules:
Friday: at Cleveland
Sunday: at Atlanta
Wednesday: versus L.A. Clippers
Thursday: at Charlotte
Saturday: at Utah
Sunday: at Denver
Wednesday: versus Charlotte
Thursday: at Memphis
Remember, too, that Orlando is without Dwight Howard, and frankly, they're looking rather terrible. So three of those Magic games look like obvious losses, don't they? They should be able to beat Charlotte, one would think, so the Magic are looking at 1-3.
That would mean the Knicks would have to go 4-0, which will be difficult but certainly doesn't seem impossible: The Atlanta and L.A. Clippers games are tough, but not impossible, and certainly not any more difficult than beating Chicago at home.
The Knicks are most likely going to end up at No. 7. But Orlando's collapse is giving everybody another subplot to end the year. We think it more than bears watching. If working Amar'e back into the mix wasn't enough motivation for the Knicks in the season's final week, this should keep it going as well. It's almost over, folks: Why wouldn't there still be something vital on the season's last day?