Many people think that the Jeremy Lin regular season ending knee injury is devastating to the Knicks because Lin is clearly the best point guard on the team. The truth is that he really isn’t. Baron Davis may not be able to score with Lin but he facilitates the offense just as well and takes care of the ball better than the turnover prone Lin.
The reason Linsanity will be missed around the Garden is because New York’s backup point guard situation is abysmal and Davis has only proven that he can play effectively when he’s logging less than 30 minutes a night. That means 20-25 minutes per game will be handled by Toney Douglas or Iman Shumpert, both of whom couldn’t effectively run a high school offense, or Mike Bibby, who should have retired three years ago. The Knicks offense grinds to halt whenever these guys are running the show.
All is not lost for New York though. Their defense has been playing at an elite level ever since Mike Woodson took over and Carmelo Anthony seems much more comfortable offensively without Amar’e Stoudemire sharing the spotlight. As long as these two revelations continue the Knicks will still make the playoffs and would give the Bulls all they could handle in a potential first round matchup.
Even though New York is a dangerous first round opponent for the Bulls it is hard to imagine Chicago and Miami not meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals. You only have to look as far as each team’s record against teams above .500 to be convinced that these two teams will face off for the right to play in the Finals. Going into Sunday’s action, the Bulls was 18-9 versus teams above .500 while the Heat were 19-10. Want further proof? Well both teams are equipped to handle crunch time in the playoffs because they are a combined 10-1 in games decided by three points or less. As for the rest of the current playoff teams the numbers in these categories aren’t nearly as impressive. The three through eight seeds in the East are a combined 62-100 against teams over .500 and 21-23 in games decided by three points or less.
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With only three plus weeks left in the push for the playoffs an important factor in playoff positioning will be the play of the also-rans. Below are lottery bound teams that are capable of beating anyone right now and also teams that should be automatic wins down the stretch.
Teams with Puncher’s Chance
New Jersey Nets
The Nets have won four of their last five games including a victory over playoff bound Indiana. Deron Williams is playing at an elite level with 44 assists over his last three games. Also, unlike most bad teams, the Nets are actually dangerous on the road where they sport a respectable 12-16 record. With five games combined left against the Celtics, 76ers and Knicks, New Jersey has the opportunity to significantly affect the race for the Atlantic Division crown.
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The Kings stink but they are 13-12 at home and have had a knack for beating good teams at ARCO Arena. Seven of their 13 wins at home have come against teams that are above .500. All eight of Sacramento’s remaining home games are against Western Conference teams that are either in the playoffs or fighting for a postseason spot. The Kings will likely hand a loss to a handful of teams down the stretch expecting to leave California’s capital with a win.
When’s the Draft Again?
After hanging around in the Eastern Conference playoff race until mid-March, the Cavs have lost 10 of their last 11 including their last six by double digits. The expected return of Anderson Varejao should help but this team looks content at finishing out the string as quickly as possible. Cleveland should be an automatic win for the 10 teams left on their schedule that are in the playoff race.
Golden State Warriors
Golden State’s upper management didn’t seem concerned about making a playoff push when they traded their best player, Monta Ellis, and a young improving big man, Ekpe Udoh, to the Bucks for a whole lot of nothing that could help them this year. The current Warriors players seem to agree with their bosses because after a rout of the Kings on the night Ellis and Udoh were traded they have promptly lost nine of their last 11. Starting with last night’s matchup against the Lakers, every game the Warriors have left, save an April 24 tilt against the equally hapless Hornets, involves a team firmly in the playoff race. Golden State should make the stretch drive a little easier for the host of good teams left on their schedule.