For the Knicks, losing to the Charlotte Bobcats by 106-95 on Monday on the road and playing in last night’s (Wednesday) requisite regular season finale against the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden were mere formalities.They had already clinched the No. 2 overall seed in the Eastern Conference and, with it, home court advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs by defeating the Indiana Pacers by 90-80 on Sunday.
While he did not directly state it, for Knicks head coach Mike Woodson, who hails from Indianapolis, preparing his team for this Saturday’s best-of-seven postseason opener against the Boston Celtics at the Garden was paramount as soon as the final buzzer sounded against his hometown team.
The Knicks have experienced their most successful regular season in two decades. They won their first Atlantic Division title since the 1993-94 season and have their first authentic franchise player in Carmelo Anthony since Patrick Ewing was in his prime. But getting to the conference finals–where they would almost certainly face the defending NBA champion, Miami Heat–and playing well will be the defining validation of their rise to becoming championship contenders.
Following the win over the Pacers, Woodson succinctly summed up what could be the Knicks’ most challenging obstacle on the road to a match up with the Heat.”We gotta get some healthy bodies back,” he emphasized. “Once we get some healthy bodies back … we’ll start practicing [on Thursday] and see where we are in terms of who’s healthy and who’ll be in the rotation once we start the playoffs. “
Woodson in particular was referring to a cadre of big men, including Kenyon Martin (knee), Rasheed Wallace (foot), Marcus Camby (foot), Amar’e Stoudemire (knee), Tyson Chandler (bulging disk) and Rasheed Wallace (foot). Health issues are seemingly the only impediment to the Knicks defeating the Celtics in no more than six games in the opening round. The proud Celtics, who had Tuesday’s contest versus the Pacers in Boston canceled due to the tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon, failed to win 50 games for the first time since the 2006-2007 season, excluding the lockout campaign of a year ago.
Their old war horses Kevin Garnet and Paul Pierce, at 35 and 36 respectively, are no longer capable of carrying a team over a difficult opponent. The Pick: Knicks in five.