4:23 pm Mar. 26, 2012
The Knicks enter Monday night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks just 1.5 games in front of Milwaukee for the final playoff spot.
That's not a big lead. The Bucks have been playing well lately, and have an easier remaining schedule than the Knicks. So a little breathing room would come in extremely handy.
After the game against the Bucks, the Knicks have 16 contests left, nine on the road, seven at home. Ten of the 16 are against projected playoff teams, including two against Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic, two against the top team in the Eastern Conference, Chicago, another against LeBron James and the Miami Heat, and a final home game of the season against Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Milwaukee has 17 games left after Monday night, six on the road, 11 at home. Just seven of the 17 are against playoff-bound teams, and of those teams, only Oklahoma City can be considered a title contender. It is a much easier remaining road.
Plus, a loss by New York means an 8-8 finish would only require Milwaukee to go 9-8 to overtake them, since the Bucks would own the tiebreaker.*
So the Knicks desperately need Amar'e Stoudemire's MRI to show nothing this afternoon, and for Stoudemire to play the way he has all month against Milwaukee. Otherwise, they'll just have to pray that Carmelo Anthony snaps out of the shooting slump he's been in for, well, the whole season.
They also need to take advantage of a suddenly leaky Milwaukee defense. Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings is known for his offense for a reason; Jeremy Lin must find a way to score and distribute effectively against him, as well as defend. (Landry Fields won't be in a great position to help out, with newly acquired Monta Ellis also in need of significant defensive attention. Fortunately for Fields, Ellis isn't likely to do much guarding, either.)
One other advantage the Knicks will have over the last time these two teams met, and it is a huge one, is Tyson Chandler, who missed their last matchup with a hamstring injury. The only Milwaukee player who could have matched up with Chandler—center Andrew Bogut—was sent to Golden State in the deal that netted Ellis.
Chandler knows how to win in the playoffs, and under playoff-type pressure. That attribute should turn out to be extremely helpful tonight.
*tiebreak math corrected from the original