The Knicks winning the Atlantic Division title at the Garden on Tuesday night for the first time since the 1993-94 season has a deeper meaning for the organization and their fans beyond the tangible benefits.
The Knicks’ 120-99 victory over the Washington Wizards–a remarkable 13 straight for a team that was desperately gasping for air after losing five out of six games from March 7 through March 17 immediately prior to beginning this unlikely streak–elevated their record to 51-26 and cemented home- court advantage for the opening round of the playoffs.
With five games remaining, including dates on the road with the Chicago Bulls tonight (Thursday) and the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow, there is still more work to be done. The Knicks’ final regular season objective is to secure the No. 2 overall seed in the East and favorable home-court standing for the conference semifinals as well. Assuming they get that far.
The Knicks currently lead the No. 3 seed Indiana Pacers, which are 49-29, by two and a half games.Remaining healthy is also critical. A left ankle injury sustained by Kenyon Martin, a key contributor to the Knicks, is a reminder of the fragile foundation on which aspirations are often supported. The raw numbers convey a large part of the still-evolving Knicks story, but it is what cannot be measured in numbers that also has great significance for a fan base and franchise starving for some semblance of success.
“So many people come up to us and say, ‘Thank you for bringing New York basketball back’ and that kind of thing,” said Knicks forward Steve Novak amidst the good feelings in the home locker room following the division clincher. “You sense that, you feel that from the fans. There’s definitely an electricity when we’re getting late into the season like this.”
Head coach Mike Woodson says being crowned division champs speaks to a broader outlook. “It means we’re headed in the right direction,” he assessed. “When you set goals and accomplish them, it means a lot to your franchise and your fans who support your ball club.”
Woodson is now 69-32 since replacing Mike D’Antoni 13 months ago. Despite the optimism, an early playoff exit would minimize the impressive regular season achievements
“It’s just one little step,” said veteran Jason Kidd. “We still have a long way to go … Been there, done that.”