The Knicks host the young and abundantly talented Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden seeking to shed a three game losing streak.
Under most circumstances, that would be cause for concern. A sure sign the season, like most seasons for the Knicks over the past ten years, was headed for catastrophe. But the 2010-11 campaign already has a profoundly different look and feel.
Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton have instilled mental toughness, player accountability and a winning attitude that should ostensibly increase with time. Their impact has been tangible, most notably in the play of Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari.
Despite the Knicks falling to the Boston Celtics last Wednesday and Miami Heat on Friday at home, then dropping a 109-102 overtime decision to the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers the next night, they were still 16-12, in second place behind the Celtics in the Atlantic Division, and sixth overall in the Eastern Conference.
All things considered, the Knicks should remain in a favorable position barring any significant injuries to their top five players. An occurrence that could derail their post-season plans.
They need to look no further than across the court on Christmas Day this Saturday at noon, when the Chicago Bulls will be at the Garden, to understand the fragility of the best laid plans.
The Bulls have designs on being a top three team in the East when the regular season ends in April. But they are without Joakim Noah, one of their key contributors, for at least the next seven weeks. The center recently had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb.
Yet the Bulls have the depth and two proven all stars in guard Derrick Rose and forward Carlos Boozer to remain steady until Noah returns. The Knicks do not possess such luxuries. Coach Mike D’Antoni’s rotation is thin. He is getting little offensive production off of the bench.
When they tipped-off against the Thunder, Toney Douglas was the leading scorer among the reserves with an unimposing average of 9.4 points per game. Shawne Williams was second, producing only 5.1.
The obvious fear is that the starters will be overworked and worn down in the coming months. This will only intensify the urgency for the Knicks to press a trade for Carmelo Anthony or other reinforcements.