This is the reality of the Eastern Conference — you don’t want to be the seven or eight seed. You don’t want to face the Bulls or the Heat in the first round. That promises a short stay in the postseason.
The Knicks are currently the eight seed. The easiest route out of that hole is to leapfrog the Celtics and pass the 76ers, who lead the Atlantic Division but are only four games ahead of the Knicks. (Don’t look behind you Knicks, but the Bucks are just half a game back as the nine seed and have won 6 games in a row.)
Win the Atlantic and you are the automatic fourth seed (at worst) and avoid real trouble until the second round.
So the Knicks game against the 76ers Wednesday night is huge for them — win and they are three games back, something that can be made up in the 19 games that remain (although the 76ers have the easier schedule the rest of the way). Lose, fall five games back, and that dream is pretty much shot.
This four game winning streak of the Knicks — all by 14 points or more — has inspired dreams in New York because of the way they are doing it: sharing the ball, playing hard on defense, executing. All the things they didn’t do under Mike D’Antoni. Carmelo Anthony all but admitted he is trying harder under Woodson. We could discuss what that says about ‘Melo as a leader but fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter — right now it is working on the court. These Knicks are actually fun to watch. And seem to be having fun again.
Wednesday night is the measuring stick for the Woodson era — the 76ers blew the Knicks out of the water the last time these two played (March 11, the fifth loss in the Knicks six-game losing streak that led to D’Antoni leaving). It was one of those typically sad Knicks efforts where the team seemed to go through the motions without passion. Things are radically different now.
The Knicks are 0-6 on the second night of a back-to-back when the other team has rest (which is the case Wednesday night). But the Knicks have been breaking all kinds of trends lately.
Break this one and they have a chance of getting out of the 8 seed, getting out of the way of the two best teams in the conference. They get a real chance at advancing out of the first round.
Lose and the Knicks will find themselves in a fight with the Bucks just to make the playoffs and get the joy of the Bulls or Heat in the first round.
It’s a big game for the Knicks hopes Wednesday.
Minnesota is going to be entertaining to watch this season. A healthy Ricky Rubio (hopefully) dishing at the point, Karl-Anthony Towns is already a high-IQ passer, and bench players such as Shabazz Muhammad and Adreian Payne have shown some skills.
Then there’s Andrew Wiggins. The reigning Rookie of the Year developed quickly last season — particularly his jump shot — and he should make a big leap this season. He’s going to dunk on people and end up in a lot of highlight packages while putting up a lot of points.
Enough to set the Minnesota Timberwolves single game scoring record, currently held at 52 by Mo Williams? That’s the question for this PBT Extra with Jenna Corrado.
The Bulls have said Derrick Rose is about a week away from returning after suffering a facial fracture this preseason.
The start of the NBA season is two weeks from today (Oct. 27).
So Rose will be ready to go when the Bulls start their season that first night against Cleveland, right? Don’t bet on it, says Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com, quoting coach Fred Hoiberg.
The opening night projection for a Derrick Rose return is a bit murky at this point, as the Bulls are taking a cautious approach to his recovery with Fred Hoiberg essentially ruling him out for the rest of the preseason.
“Most likely (out for the preseason),” Hoiberg said….
In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rose sit out the first handful of games, as the Bulls start the season with a three-game in four-night stretch starting Oct. 27 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which is in two weeks.
“That will be in consideration, sure,” Hoiberg said. “We gotta make sure, he really hasn’t done anything and that will be a good two or three weeks where he has total inactivity, so just to throw him back out there going 100 percent with his speed and everything, you just don’t want to take any risks, chances, where it could be a lingering issue.”
Just what TNT and the NBA hoped for with an opening night Bulls vs. Cavaliers showcase: Kirk Hinrich vs. Mo Williams. (Don’t forget Kyrie Irving will miss the start of the season recovering from his knee surgery.)
Of course, this is the smart play for the Bulls who need to be thinking about getting Rose fully healthy and focusing on what condition he will be come April 27, not Oct. 27.
And of course, a lot of Bulls fans who are down on Rose will slam him for this. Even though the injury was a freak accident and the team is right to be patient.
Rose could play opening night, if he gets back to practice next week and can get closer to basketball shape. But I wouldn’t bet on it.