Continuing through Dec. 23, ESPNNewYork.com will run a series called "Christmas Countdown," examining a hot topic each day that surrounds "your New ... York ... Knicks!" as PA announcer Mike Walczewski says with slight pauses and strong punctuation.
Today's Hot Topic: Best-case scenario
In an interview with ESPN New York's Robin Lundberg during the Knicks' media day on Monday, Landry Fields said he thinks the team "can go all the way."
Adding Tyson Chandler to a starting five that already includes Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire will definitely be enough for the Knicks to earn a playoff seed.
But all the way? The Eastern Conference finals is a more realistic target this season.
Currently, the Knicks have two limitations: an inexperienced starting point guard and a nonexistent scorer in the second unit. There's a reason why the Mavericks shocked the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals. Not only did they have a formidable front line of Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler, they also had an All-Star-caliber point guard (Jason Kidd) and weapon off the bench (Jason Terry).
Going into this season, the Heat and Bulls are, once again, the top two teams in the East. And while the Celtics are aging, until the Knicks can snag a season series from them, they will remain north on the leaderboard, just like they do on the U.S. map.
The biggest advantage all three of those teams have over the Knicks is that they each feature one of best facilitators, penetrators and distributors in the game (the Heat have two). There's Derrick Rose in Chicago and Rajon Rondo in Boston. Then there are two guys named Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in Miami. True, they're not strictly point guards, but that doesn't matter; they can break down a defense just as good -- if not better.
Those four All-Stars will pose a major defensive challenge to the Knicks. While Toney Douglas is a solid one-on-one defender, he had a hard time keeping up with Rondo during the Celtics' sweep of the Knicks in the first-round of the 2011 playoffs. Here are Rondo's stat lines from Games 2 through 4, when TD matched up with him: 30 points and 7 assists; 15 points, 20 assists and 11 rebounds; and 21 points and 12 assists. These numbers prove why Iman Shumpert was highly sought after, and hopefully he can help out defensively in the backcourt.
The good thing is that starting Christmas Day, every player in the league will be tested more than ever with the shortened schedule. The Knicks, specifically, are playing 21 back-to-backs, one back-to-back-to-back, four games in five nights four times and five games in seven nights once. Overall, 34 of the Knicks' 66 games are against teams that made the playoffs last season.
Can the Knicks reach the Eastern Conference finals? Yes. But the main stage? No -- well at least not until they make a couple of upgrades. On Monday, Mike D'Antoni said everything has to be clicking at the right time for a team to become a champion, mostly with how the players are jelling and feeling. Even though it was unlikely for the Knicks to upset the Celtics in the postseason, injuries to Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups, who Douglas replaced, really doomed them.
Chandler said it best.
"I was just talking to one of the young fellas about [the schedule]," he said. "The more you can treat your body, the better off you're going to be [later] in the season."
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