Right now the Knicks are a .500 team, 15-15. Right now they are the eighth seed in the East.
Chances are that after Friday night Jeremy Lin — who will get credit regardless of how he plays — and the Knicks will be above .500 as they should knock off the Hornets (and move into a tie with the Celtics for the seven seed).
The question is, how far can they go after that?
First things first, the Hornets are a team ill-suited to play against the Knicks. They have the second-worst record in the NBA (6-23), and will be without Eric Gordon, Carl Landry, Emeka Okafor and likely Jarrett Jack due to injuries. That would be four of their starters in an ideal world. The Hornets play at the slowest pace in the league and are 1-9 against the teams in the top 10 in the league in tempo (the Knicks are third) and New Orleans is 29th in transition defense. Plus, they struggle mightily with teams that are good on the pick-and-roll — they are 22nd in the league in stopping the ball handler and 29th against the roll man.
Jeremy Lin should have room to operate, both to create looks for himself and others. Look for Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire to have big nights. Look for a few big dunks. Linsanity should be 8-0. (We say should because the Hornets did just beat Portland.)
The real question for Knicks fans is how long this ride will last?
Adding J.R. Smith and getting Carmelo Anthony back makes this team a more serious threat — these are two guys who played well off the ball in Denver. While they both can be unrepentant gunners and ball stoppers, both could thrive in the D’Antoni system. There will undoubtedly be bumps in the process but the Knicks can have Stoudemire and Lin running a pick-and-roll with Anthony and/or Smith as weakside kick-out-options that will leave opposing defenses with impossible choices.
But the real test is the Knicks schedule starting next week — Atlanta and Miami — and continuing into March. They have eight of their first 12 in March on the road. They have Boston, Dallas, San Antonio, Philly (twice), Chicago, Indiana (twice) all in the first half of March. All that puts a dent in any team’s run.
What the Knicks have going for them is their defense. Seriously. Nobody really talks about the fact they are the sixth best defense in the league (if you use points per possession). They have been a statistically better defensive team with Lin in the lineup. That is the kind of thing that sustains success.
The reality is that the tough schedule and the challenge of fitting all the pieces together in a condensed schedule it’s going to be hard for New York make up the four games they are back of the Hawks for the four seed (or the five games they are back of the 76ers for the Atlantic Division crown). To have a chance at home court in the first round the Knicks need to beat those two teams in particular, and a lot better teams in general.
But this is also a team that should have its parts coming together and finding a groove when it matters most — heading into the playoffs. They may be a lower seed, but they are not the team anybody wants in the first round. They need to move up enough to avoid Chicago and Miami in that first round — the Knicks are not on that level yet — but if they do we could see the Knicks reach the second round of the playoffs this year.
And that would cause real Linsanity in New York.