The Knicks won a sloppy-but-awfully-exciting 113–112 road game against the Hawks yesterday afternoon, and the nature of the win — loose, shaggy, not particularly inspired but still impressive — sort of matched the Knicks' attitude this weekend. The Knicks came into Friday night three games behind the Orlando Magic with four games to go, a slim chance, but a real chance to catch them, considering the Knicks have the tiebreaker. Then, as the Knicks have done so many times on Friday night games this year, they laid an egg.
The Knicks were so obviously disinterested heading into Cleveland that even their coach speculated they were too relaxed after clinching a playoff berth the night before, and the Cavs knocked them around 98–90 in a game that wasn't that close. The Magic did their part this weekend by losing both their games, but the Knicks' loss to the Cavs made catching Orlando nearly impossible. The Magic play the Charlotte Hornets — a team that has lost twenty consecutive games — on Wednesday, and a win would cinch the No. 6 spot and force the Knicks to play the Heat.
Now, we mean no offense to the Indiana Pacers here — offending multi-million-dollar corporations is a constant concern! — but the difference between a seven-game series with them and a seven-game series with the Heat is dramatic. (Especially considering Jeremy Lin would be on track to return for a second-round series.) Grabbing that No. 6 seed should have been of paramount importance to the Knicks; the Magic's collapse — which should continue now that Jameer Nelson has joined Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu on the injured list — has been a gift, one the Knicks dropped a chance to pound on Friday night. The Knicks now need to win their last two games (home against the Clippers on Wednesday, at Charlotte on Thursday) and need the Magic to lose their last two (home against those twenty-straight-loss Bobcats on Wednesday, at Memphis on Thursday). As depleted as the Magic are right now, they should be able to beat Charlotte at home. Which means the Knicks missed their opportunity. And they're going to have to play the darned Heat, like, immediately. It's frustrating.
Yesterday was still a nice win, considering the Knicks won on the road against a playoff team without Tyson Chandler. The center was obviously missed on defense; the Hawks had a happy, easy route to the lane all afternoon. But so did the Knicks, and, as it turned out, Carmelo Anthony was just a little bit better than Joe Johnson. He was terrific yesterday as usual, but the real surprise might have been Amar'e Stoudemire, who scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds. Now, it's easier to score when the other team isn't bothering to play defense, but still, he hit several jumpers and threw down some scary dunks and generally looked like a guy who could, possibly, score points on a regular basis again.
It was a pleasant afternoon yesterday, but it's tough to shake the feeling that it's not going to matter. Friday's loss — a game in which Mike Bibby scored as many points as Carmelo Anthony (12) — ruined everything else that came after it. The Knicks, barring eight more Magic players getting hurt by Wednesday, enough for them to snap Charlotte's twenty-game losing streak, will be playing the Miami Heat rather than the Indiana Pacers. It's great to celebrate making the playoffs. But that celebration just made those playoffs that much more difficult.