The New York Knicks are 14 games over .500 and four games out of first place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Life is pretty sweet right now for Knicks fans, but there’s still a lot of work to do and a lot of progress to be made.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, the next step in terms of progress comes with beating out the defending world champions and becoming the best team in their conference (and if not subsequently the entire league). And while many view the regular season as just passing time for the repeat-hopeful Miami Heat, their seat atop the conference may be hotter than expected as the season enters its second half.
Some may say that the difference between being seeded No. 1 or No. 2 is pretty slim, considering that in a perfect world the top two would face each other at some point either way.
But for the Knicks at the moment, seeding could be all the difference in the world, especially considering who they would play at the moment as No. 2 (the recent New York playoff-killer Celtics) and who they would currently play as No. 1 (the not-so-threatening No. 8 Milwaukee Bucks).
The key players will obviously be the difference makers as seeding starts to work itself out: Can Carmelo keep up his defensive improvements? Will Amar’e continue his return to his past form? Will the elderly lineup stay healthy long enough?
But more importantly, the Knicks will have to decide in the coming weeks just how much they want to focus their attentions on contending right now as opposed to building upon a more long-term outlook.
With the trade deadline essentially just a day away at this point, the Knicks could still ship off Iman Shumpert for some more defensive help, but that’s as much a bad idea as it is a good idea depending on how you look at it.
Instead of possible trades, what the Knicks need to focus on right now is consistency, which will take an obvious blow with any sort of lineup shift this late in the season.
Because what the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers (the only other team with a shot at winning the East) have in common is that aspect of being greater than the sum of their parts. The Knicks, after a few years trial period, have achieved that, but a shakeup with only 32 games left on the schedule might set them back down a few pegs.
In the coming months, the Knicks will have ample time and opportunities to get their consistency down pat. With home and away games against both Indiana and Miami left on their schedule, this shouldn’t be a year where the Knicks head into the playoffs not knowing where they stand among the rest of the competition.
And as long as the key players play their part, it could very well be a playoffs where the Knicks start off with a No. 1 target on their backs.