The Weary’d yet Welcomed Challenge

Home is were the cooking begins and the Knicks road the crest of a four game home stand to a much needed four game winning streak. The latest in that wave was a thumping of an undermanned Raptors team. Nevertheless the Knicks did to the Raptors what they’ve been doing since they ended a horrid six game losing streak, namely thrashing teams that they are supposed to beat.

Last night’s showing against the Raptors was perhaps the Knicks best offensive showing since the arrival of Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks. On the offensive side of the ball:  the Knicks moved the ball well finding open snipers on the perimeter, the three point shots were falling,  the pick and roll made a reappearance and players were being fed the ball as they cut to the lane. The game also saw Landry Fields get his mojo back, Toney Douglas continue to prove to be a welcome spark off the bench and the Knicks reserves were generally productive. The end result a 131-118 Thumping of the Raptors in which the home town Knicks lead from start to finish.

The win set the stage for a showdown tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Knicks win (coupled with a 76ers loss) last night put the Knicks just one game behind the 76ers.The Knicks can reclaim the 6th seed in the Eastern conference with a win tonight against 76ers.

But holding on to the 6th spot will almost require the Knicks to win all of their remaining games going forward in order to lock up that spot in the playoff standing. Assuming the 76ers win out the rest of the way, the Knicks can theoretically only afford to lose one game going forward. That loss can not from a division opponent because tie breakers (should the 76ers and Knicks finish with identical 42-42 records) would first be determined by the respective teams standing in their division. A Knicks win tonight would place them at 9-5 in the Atlantic Division and leave the 76ers with a 8-7 division record going forward.

However, locking up the 6th seed does not guarantee the Knicks an easier match up in the playoffs. Because the 2nd and 3rd spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs are so interchangeable, some may not see an incentive to go after the 6th spot. Both the Celtics and Heat would present formidable challenges to the reconstituted Knicks. Wouldn’t there then be an incentive to keeping Amar’e fresh for a post season run against either adversary. Would overplaying Amar’e  as the season winds down weaken the Knicks for the upcoming post season?

On the other hand, because the Knicks are still in the process of redeveloping chemistry, targeting the 6th seed in the East could help the Knicks. A final push to obtain and secure the 6th seed could help the team develop a playoff mindset. Recapturing and maintaining the 6th seed would require the Knicks to approach the remaining games on their schedule with the sense of urgency needed playoffs and could build the teams momentum going into the playoffs. That of course is easier said than done as four of the remaining five games are against teams looking to secure their position in the post season dance.

There may be no rest for the weary Knicks as they navigate the line between rejuvenating their star power forward and forging the chemistry and mentality needed for a post season charge. That rest may have to wait for the possibly lockout shortened season that looms around the end of the post season corner. It is an interesting situation the Knicks have not faced in about seven years. But one Gotham’s team apparently welcomes.