Every now and then Mike Woodson makes a desperate change in his lineup which starts a winning streak that creates the illusion of a good team come together again. The New York Knicks beating the Utah Jazz 108-81 with another big game from Carmelo Anthony is another one of those moments when it seems this dysfunctional team might actually make the playoffs.
Anthony scored 29 points as the Knicks had a perfect first quarter, breaking away with a 39-22 score after 12 minutes, being their best quarter of the season. They also didn’t turn the ball over once during that stormy opening. J.R. Smith scored 17 points, Tyson Chandler added 16 and Amare Stoudemire scored 10 points in only 19 minutes, back to being carefully used and limited in minutes. In such a blowout game, it doesn’t really matter.
This was the first time since January that the Knicks have won consecutive games, followed by an awful February. Luckily, in the East, you’re never really out of the playoff picutre, especially with the Hawks slipping away and the Cavs-Pistons unable to gather some momentum heading into the final six weeks of the season.
Better basketball? Smarter team all of a sudden? The Knicks are in a soft part of their schedule, but are finally making the most of it. Raymond Felton didn’t have a good game (2 points), but he didn’t make too many mistakes either, which often seems to be an indication of how good or bad the Knicks are going to look. This season has swung according to the effort and focus from this team on offense, and when the ball is actually moving, good things happen.
Anthony finished with 8 assists, something that has happened only 18 previous times in his career. That’s more rare than him scoring 40 or shooting at least 30 times.
But is a win over the Utah Jazz such a huge reason to celebrate? In the NBA, especially at this part of the season, it’s quite clear which teams still have something to play for while the rest are simply passing time, trying to figure out who is good enough to stay with them for another season. Teams like that might have no pressure on them, but they’re often broken quickly if the game slips away from them, and the Jazz hardly put up a fight when they were seeing the Knicks have everything work for them early on in the game.
It’s hard to predict how the Knicks will look like if they do make the playoffs. They won’t get far, but it might have reprecussions about their roster next season, first and foremost about Carmelo Anthony staying. Because finishing in the top 8 might give him and others the illusion that there’s actually a solid team here that somehow got caught in the wrong kind of season. The Knicks have no room for manuevrability in terms of cap space, and obviously are emptied from draft picks. Anthony staying is their only chance of having something to play for next year, which makes making the playoffs much more important than it would on any other season.