MIAMI -- The conclusion of the Knicks' season Wednesday night enhanced this burning question: If the team was fully healthy, could they have taken the Heat to six or seven games?
It's one that fans will be pondering over the next few days (even though the Heat were the better overall team), and one that will end with realizing the Knicks do have potential -- the potential to face the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals in the next year or so.
While the Knicks entered the playoffs this season as the seventh seed, they had the talent and momentum of a third seed, having won 18 of their last 24 regular-season games under Mike Woodson and led by Carmelo Anthony's 24.5 points per game on a solid 47.0 percent shooting. Woodson demanded accountability on defense, and when Melo played hard on that side of the ball consistently, it was contagious to the rest of the guys. Remarkably, they made big strides without mostly Jeremy Lin and Amare Stoudemire in the lineup, and then against the Heat, Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, Baron Davis and Jared Jeffries all suffered from something.
The Knicks never had continuity, but fortunately Woodson did a nice job with the cards he was dealt. Perhaps if the Knicks did, they could've given the Heat a bigger run for their money. Nevertheless, Melo feels good about his team's chances looking ahead to next season.
"I feel confident in my team and where we're headed, despite everything that happened this season," he said during his postgame press conference. "It's been an up-and-down season for us. We still went out there, we competed, we played with what we had out there. In the future, I feel good about competing with the top teams in the Eastern Conference. I do consider our team being up there -- a top-three, top-four team in the East. But we've just got to get better and go from there."
After the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra credited Woodson for doing "a heck of a job" with the Knicks and called Anthony "a top-three tough cover in this league." The Knicks have the coach and star player tandem to build from, especially because they're both on the same page and support each other. Now it's about finding "pieces to the puzzle," as Woodson likes to say.
Just like how the Heat's Big Three was able to recruit effective complementary role players, the Knicks' star trio shouldn't have a problem in the offseason pitching for who they may like. Fortunately, two of them, Lin and Steve Novak, would love to be back in New York.
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