Knicks' Slim Playoff Hopes Lie Inside the Arc
By Sara Peters
Knicks fans' haven't got much to pin their tattered playoff hopes to.
For a brief shining moment last week they'd snatched the eighth playoff slot in the East from the Atlanta Hawks. But that hold was short lived.
After back-to-back New York losses and Atlanta wins, the Knicks are two games out with just over a week remaining in the regular season. To squeak past Atlanta, the Knicks would have to go 4-0 in their final games of the season and the Hawks would have to go 2-4 in their last six games. This seems unlikely: although the Hawks' record is poor on no rest (.316 win percentage) and even worse on two days rest (.231), it's excellent on one day of rest (.622). Unfortunately for the Knicks, four of the Hawks' upcoming games will be on one day of rest.
Of course, short of magical curses and Phil Jackson Jedi Mind Tricks, there's nothing the Knicks can do to make the Hawks lose, so they need to worry about winning their last four match-ups. And to do that, they need to rely less on the perimeter game that worked for them last season, and muscle up for a gritty inside game that's been working for them as of late.
After a dismal 2-11 February, Knicks coach Mike Woodson changed the starting lineup. Since then, the Knicks have gone 12-5. Although J.R. Smith -- one of the new additions to the starting lineup -- has been on a three-point barrage (including setting an NBA record with 24 threes made over a three-game span), the three-point game (which was so key to the Knicks' success last season) has little to do with those 12 wins.
On Friday, Smith sunk eight three-pointers, and on Sunday Smith set a Knicks franchise-record with 10 threes in a game and set a league record with 22 three-point attempts ... both games resulted in losses.
Part of that can be blamed on poor shooting performances by Carmelo Anthony, who is suffering from a shoulder injury. However when you compare wins and losses in this 12-5 stretch, the average number of threes made and attempted per game are actually higher when they lose -- 10.3 makes on 25.9 attempts in wins, and 10.6 makes on 28.0 attempts in losses.
Knicks Since March 5
The victories are being won in the paint. During this stretch, the Knicks are scoring 35.3 points in the paint when they win, and only 27.2 when they lose -- that's an eight point difference just on its own. Plus, by driving the lane instead of tossing up outside jumpers, they're getting to the line more often. They're attempting 22.9 free throws in wins, and only 16.6 in losses.
Knicks Since March 5
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The other big difference comes in transition -- both offense and defense. The Knicks score 11.5 fast break points when they win, and only 7.2 when they lose; they allow opponents 8.9 fast break points when they win, and 12.4 when they lose.
This is significant, because throughout the season the Knicks have basically been a half-court team. They've been weak on transition defense and haven't had any fast-break offense to speak of -- they are last in the league with just 8.9 fast break points per game on the season.
They're also delivering three more blocks per game when they win, and every monstrous whack energizes New York -- both players and fans. Every great defensive stand seems to feed into a great offensive possession.
A closer look at how they have won 12 of their last 17 games shows that the Knicks should rely less on the long ball and work inside the arc to get more points in the paint, more free throw attempts and more fast break points. Can they change their usual game plan so late in the season, and with their best player less than 100 percent? If they want to keep their playoff hopes alive, they'll need to.