Monday, April 23, 2012

Hopes for Sixth Seed; Resting for the Playoffs

As was probably noticeable to anybody watching yesterday's game vs. the Atlanta Hawks, the Knicks looked indecisive. Indecisive, perhaps unorganized on the floor, but even moreso in spirit. They had clinched a playoff berth on Thursday night with Milwaukee's loss, and seemed content with that during their lackluster meandering around a wooden floor in Cleveland on Friday night. Yesterday afternoon, the Mike Woodson allowed Tyson Chandler to rest, another sign that the Knicks were just content to be playing into May. But then something happened.

Amist trash-talking, yapping back and forth, some hard fouls, and a fiery offensive duel, the Knicks pride kicked in and appeared to will them to beat the Atlanta Hawks. This was significant for a few reasons. First, it seemed to suggest that the Knicks aren't willing to tank in order to avoid the Miami Heat in the first round. Second, they rode Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire for heavy minutes, perhaps throwing aside the idea of rest. Third, it pointed to a desire to still contend for the sixth seed in the East.

But even still, nothing has been set in stone as far as the playoffs go, and there are still a few options for the Knicks in their final two games, each with its own set of benefits.

1.) Continue the pursuit of the sixth seed - The Knicks seem unafraid of playing the Miami Heat in the first round, but that doesn't mean they want to play them. Currently, the Orlando Magic have a two game lead over the Knicks for that coveted sixth seed. Orlando is in a bit of a tailspin, having lost three games in a row, being without Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu, and Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson are both banged up. Should Orlando lose their final two games while the Knicks win their final two, they would finish with an identical record of 36-30. The Knicks won the season series against Orlando, and thus own the tie-breaker, which would give them the sixth seed in this scenario.

With all due respect to the Indiana Pacers who have been red hot in April, the Knicks also took that season series and feel like they would have a better chance of advancing to the second round if they opened the playoffs by playing the Pacers. Of course, getting to the second round increases the chances of getting Jeremy Lin back.

2.) Rest the starters - With all of that said, the Knicks biggest challenge in gaining the sixth seed is not by winning their last two games, it's hoping Orlando loses its last two. As big of a quandary as the Magic are in, their next game is against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, who have lost twenty (20!!) games in a row. If the Knicks continue to play guys like Baron Davis, Tyson Chandler, and Carmelo Anthony regular, big minutes, they run the risk of over-working them to no avail. If the Magic win just one more game, they'll clinch the sixth seed and that's completely out of New York's hands.

Perhaps then, Mike Woodson should allow the top guns rest. Baron Davis (despite some awful turnovers and general sluggishness) has his best game in quite some time yesterday, and that was after four days of rest. Tyson Chandler has been playing injured for most of the season, and admitted he needed a break, hence his absence yesterday. Carmelo Anthony has been working like a doge carrying the Knicks over the last few weeks, so he too could use some rest. Even guys like Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, and Landry Fields could use some reduced minutes to be fresh for the playoffs.

 3.) Stay on course - The problem with resting the starters would be that they would lose time to find any sort of continuity. Despite the feel-good vibes of Melo and Amar'e's combined 57 points yesterday, those contributions came without Tyson Chandler in the middle, thus allowing Amar'e to work freely in the paint. Through this wacky, injury-riddled season, hardly any players have gotten time to develop chemistry on the floor, and the current lineup of Davis, Shumpert, Anthony, Stoudemire, and Chandler have not really played together.

If the sixth seed is out-of-reach, some would argue that playing the Bulls or Heat would be an equally tough series, so the Knicks should take the last two games to gel and find some chemistry before the playoffs begin.

So, what should they do?

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