Updated: April 26, 2012, 6:54 PM ET

Playoff Challenges Clear For Knicks, Clippers

By John Hollinger
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- So let's discuss what was proved, and what wasn't, Wednesday in New York's 99-93 win over the Clippers.

What was? That the Clippers need a healthy Chris Paul to do anything of consequence in the playoffs, just in case there was any doubt of that. L.A. mustered only 74 points in the first 42 minutes of the game, with Paul's replacement, Eric Bledsoe, accounting for a mere two in 27 minutes.

Alas, the Knicks' subs nearly let the Clippers steal it by putting Steve Novak on Blake Griffin and Dan Gadzuric on the basketball court. New York didn't restore order until Tyson Chandler returned with three minutes left after a 14-0 Clippers run made things interesting.

What wasn't proved? That the Carmelo Anthony-Amare Stoudemire dynamic can work. The Bockers again played their best ball with small lineups, which makes one wonder why they're so stubbornly insistent on not using them. Nothing screams this more succinctly than "Novak: +14." The Knicks were at their best with either Anthony or Novak as the 4 and not more than one big man (either Chandler or Stoudemire, but goodness gracious, not Gadzuric) on the court.

Again, it didn't take Wednesday's game to make this known. Anthony's numbers this season as a power forward are amazing: a player efficiency rating of 28.9, according to 82games.com, compared to just 16.5 as a small forward. He's a matchup nightmare at the 4; as a 3, well, he's just a 3 who shoots a lot of long jumpers.

And the fact is, Stoudemire is no longer good enough for the Knicks to build their lineup around him. The best move for this edition of the Knicks is to bring Stoudemire off the bench, start Anthony at the 4, and ensure that of Chandler, Stoudemire and Anthony, no more than two are on the court at most times.

This has the added benefit of covering the Knicks' biggest weakness, the lack of centers beyond Chandler. With Jared Jeffries -- already a bit of a stretch as a 5 -- toughing it out on a bum knee and no other quality big men on hand (reference, again, Gadzuric's eight-minute stint), the only impediment to this approach is New York's stubbornness in trying to make the Melo-Amare-Chandler lineup work.

It doesn't.

In the meantime, this win put New York in position to claim the No. 7 seed and a renewal of its rivalry with the Heat in the first round of the playoffs; the Knicks will clinch with either a win over the hapless Bobcats on Thursday or a Philadelphia loss.

For the Clippers, it gets tougher. Memphis can wrest home-court advantage from them in the first round with a win over Orlando on Thursday, and the Magic have nothing to play for since their win over the Bobcats on Wednesday locked them into the sixth seed. The Clips will take that setback, however, if it means Paul's strained groin is healed for the start of the playoffs.

And in one sense, the Clippers finished Wednesday ahead of New York. L.A. already knows it can't win without Paul and is taking appropriate measures. New York still thinks it can thrive with the Melo-Amare forward combo and is avoiding a clear solution.

Dimes past: 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13-14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20-21 | 22 | 23 | 24

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