12:52 pm Apr. 13, 2012
The New York Knicks, over the past week, have played games that were vital to win for one reason or another.
Their victory on Wednesday over the Milwaukee Bucks dealt a blow to the team chasing them for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The win last Sunday against the Chicago Bulls served as a statement to their probable first-round playoff opponent.
But when they take the floor on Friday night at Madison Square Garden against the Washington Wizards, the Knicks need to win for only one reason: This game is the closest thing they have to money in the bank during a brutal nine-day stretch of basketball.
Consider that they played Chicago, the best team in the Eastern Conference, last Sunday and Tuesday. They faced Milwaukee, a hot team in contention, on Wednesday. This coming Sunday, they host LeBron James and the Miami Heat. And this Tuesday, the Boston Celtics come to Madison Square Garden, having won four in a row and nine of eleven.
So as they attempt to navigate he final eight games of the season, holding a two-game lead over Milwaukee, and trailing the Sixers by one game for seventh-place, pocketing games like Washington at home is a must.
By any measure, the Wizards are a bad N.B.A. team. They are 14-44 overall. They're 6-23 on the road. They've won two in a row, but those wins came over Charlotte, the only Eastern Conference team with a worse record than Washington, and Orlando, in full meltdown mode without Dwight Howard.
That said, the Wizards are receiving strong play of late by Kevin Seraphin, a 6'9" forward who New York has no obvious defensive answer for. And the Wizards still have John Wall, whose quickness at point guard seems designed to punish a New York team with no point guard at all, other than Baron Davis, whose various injuries make him no candidate to guard Wall. That task will likely fall to Iman Shumpert, leaving shooting guard Jordan Crawford, with three 20+ point games in his last five, more room to operate.
At the same time, Washington has no obvious candidate to stop Carmelo Anthony, while Tyson Chandler, against the Washington's interior, could pull down 20 rebounds. And the Wizards lack the depth to take advantage of New York's current lack of depth.
Washington is a bad team, and New York is playing them at home. The Knicks have a number of bad losses this year that have left them in this precarious playoff position. They can't afford another one tonight.