The Knicks might’ve been officially eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend, but that didn’t stop them from playing as if their postseason fate was still in doubt, as they knocked off the Bulls, 100-89.
New York (35-45) was officially eliminated from the playoffs when the Heat fell to the Hawks on Saturday night, as the Hawks sewed up the eighth and final playoff seed.
But with only two games remaining, it must be a wonder to the Knicks’ faithful as to why their squad had such an up-and-down campaign, as their recent play has been a tease at what this team could’ve been all season.
The Knicks are 14-7 over the last two months.
“When you look back to when we started the season, our personnel was good when we started out, but when people start to tumble you struggle and that’s the reality,” said head coach Mike Woodson. “We had J.R. [Smith] suspended, Tyson [Chandler] goes down after the first three games and Amar’e [Stoudemire] was only allowed to play like 10 minutes. There’s a lot of ‘what-ifs’ but those are the things as a coach you can’t control. ... But I’m proud of my team and the effort they put in during the last month and a half. But ultimately we fell a little short.”
The reason the Knicks fell short, just as they were starting to get hot, was because of the massive toll injuries had on the roster — including the season-ending losses of Andrea Bargnani and Kenyon Martin during the middle of the campaign.
“We’re all healthy now. Amar’e is playing unbelievable, and J.R. is starting to play well and like the guy who won Sixth Man last season. And our record has been good because of that,” said Woodson. “But the way I look at it is, a month and a half ago, we were 6 1/2 games out [of the eighth seed]. But then we got hot, started to sniff the playoffs and a lot of that had to do with being healthy, especially Amar’e.”
Heading into this season, the Knicks had high hopes as they were coming off a 54-win campaign in which they advanced to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs and underwent a roster overhaul that, on paper, looked more imposing.
It wasn’t to be, however, as the Heat actually doused their playoff aspirations after being upset in Atlanta.
“It is what it is,” Smith said when asked about playing out the string. “We still have to keep grinding. ... I’m not gonna lie, it’s a tough thing to grasp, but we dug this hole our own selves.”
The wheels came off almost immediately — even before the regular season began — as Smith was rehabbing a knee injury due to late-summer surgery. The enigmatic shooting guard also served a five-game suspension to start the season for a positive marijuana test. Stoudemire was still a major question mark due to his knee injury history and minutes restriction. And Carmelo Anthony had the cloud of his pending free agency looming over his head.
Rookie Tim Hardaway Jr., who outside of Anthony might’ve been the only other constant bright spot this season, said it’s still imperative for the team to play hard.
“Even though we’re down, we still had to come out and play. It’s a pride thing, we take this very serious, so we just wanted to come out and compete and come out with the win,” said Hardaway. “This still means a lot to come out and play hard. Even though we’re out of the playoffs [it] doesn’t mean we don’t keep fighting and keep on competing. We’ll keep doing that throughout until this ends and end the season strong.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.