The New York Knicks have clinched the Atlantic Division title. They have clinched the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference. They have surpassed 50 wins. They are resting all their major players as much as possible, so what is left to look for this week until the Knicks tip-off their playoff run against the Boston Celtics on Saturday?
All Knicks fans should have their eyes on the race for the 5 and 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, where the Atlanta Hawks currently hold a .5 game lead on the Chicago Bulls. Atlanta has two games left, against Toronto tonight and then the Knicks tomorrow night. The Bulls have one game left, against Washington tomorrow night. Chicago does hold the tie-breaker. Why does this battle matter? The Knicks want Chicago in Miami’s side of the bracket, not their side. If Chicago can catch Atlanta, the Knicks would have the winner of Indiana vs. Atlanta in the second round, if they can get past the Celtics. Considering the Knicks 0-4 record against the Bulls this year and the prospect of Chicago beating up the Heat a little bit in the second round, it’d be much better for the Knicks playoff chances to go through Boston and then Indiana/Atlanta. The Knicks game on Wednesday against the Hawks could very well determine the seeding in the East, although I doubt this is cause to limit rest for players like Carmelo Anthony or Tyson Chandler.
The Knicks also need to see if Rasheed Wallace or Marcus Camby can be counted on for depth purposes in the playoffs. Wallace played limited minutes last night and now needs to see how his body responds. He can provide six fouls, rebounding and defense off the bench if Tyson Chandler gets in foul trouble or needs a break. You can never have enough veteran, physical players to bring off the bench in a series against Boston or in a prospective series with Indiana. The same goes for Camby, who didn’t play last night but could get a look tomorrow night. The fact that we haven’t heard a peep about Amare Stoudemire’s status, certainly makes it seem like he won’t be a factor in the first round.
It will be interesting to see how Mike Woodson’s playoff rotation ultimately shakes out. We know JR Smith, Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin will see heavy minutes off the bench. Chris Copeland and Steve Novak will also likely have situational roles to provide offense. Novak is valuable to space the floor and could see a 5-6 minute stretch each half. Copeland provides instant offense and allows the Knicks to play small-ball in the right situation. Wallace and Camby provide emergency fouls and spot rest for Chander if needed. There could be games the rotation locks in at 8 and there could be games it fluctuates to 11.