It's been nearly two weeks since the New York Knicks made official their acquisition of Nuggets' superstar Carmelo Anthony. The move, which was hailed as a godsend for MSG and New York basketball, has made the Knicks more relevant in the Eastern Conference. Since Melo's debut on Feb. 23, the Knicks are 3-3 with wins over Milwaukee, Miami, and New Orleans. Two of their three losses have come against the league's worst team: the Cleveland Cavaliers. So, is it just two bad nights? or a sign that this Knicks team is not yet ready to contend with the big boys in the East?
In the two deplorable defeats, New York has gave up a combined 234 points. Head coach Mike D'Antoni is not known for coaching strong defensive teams. He's an offensive coach, favoring a fast-paced offense which makes it difficult for players to set up defensively. But this alone doesn't explain why the Knicks have given up 234 points to a 12-49 Cleveland Cavaliers team in the span of a week.
Less than one week ago, the orange and blue held one of the league's best offensive teams, the Miami Heat, to 86 points, a little less than sixteen points under their season average. They allow Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson, and Ramon Sessions to score 28, 24, and 22 points respectively on Feb 25. Two days later, they hold Dwyane Wade, arguably the league's best pure scorer, to 12 points. Explain that.
It's true that, on any given night, any team can beat any team in the NBA. However, this is past the point of a mere coincidence. The Knicks are 0-3 against Cleveland this season, accounting for 25% of the debilitated franchise's total wins.
Luckily, New York will not see the Cavaliers in the postseason this year. Yet, these losses have dampened the recent surge of optimism surrounding a Knicks franchise that has not played meaningful basketball since the new millennium. There is much to be said about positive changes brought upon by the trade, such as the way that Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo are working together and the leadership exuded by point guard Chauncey Billups. In addition, the Knicks have shown their ability to beat talented teams: Miami, New Orleans.
Their two losses to Cleveland serve as reality checks. True, elite teams do not lose three times to the worst team in the league; they don't lose at all to the worst team in the league. If the Knicks want to be considered a serious contender, they have to beat the teams their supposed to beat - Cleveland falls into that category.
"Stat and Melo" have 22 games to prepare their team for playoff basketball. The Knicks currently sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Best case scenario: they catch the Hawks and get the five seed. Most likely, New York will finish in sixth or seventh. Interestingly enough, it seems that the Knicks are better suited for a seven game series with either Chicago or Miami as opposed to Orlando. So, although catching the Atlanta would certainly be an achievement, drawing the Bulls or the Heat in the first round wouldn't be the end of the world.
Whatever seed they end up with, the Knicks will be underdogs. If they have any hopes of getting out of the first round, they must learn to be more consistent (cough, cough....not lose to Cleveland). Two losses to the Cavaliers is downright awful, but March has just begun. More than a month remains before postseason play.
Who knows, maybe those Cleveland losses were merely a result of a new team still learning to adjust. Or maybe the Knicks just aren't yet ready to be taken seriously. Only time will tell.