According to the NBA Standings (which positioned the Knicks one game behind the Hawks, two in the loss column, for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot heading into Sunday), New York is fighting for its postseason life right now.
Unfortunately, they didn’t look like it much on Sunday in Miami.
Though Carmelo Anthony is often recognized as a top five player in the game, he was no match for the NBA’s top dog in LeBron James. The two-time champion helped the Heat control the tempo all game long, and poured in 38 points en route to his team’s 102-91 win.
Surprisingly enough, the Heat actually fell behind the Knicks by double-digits early in the first, but later caught New York off guard, and subsequently came roaring back.
Heading into the second half, the two teams remained close as they traded buckets. But in the third quarter, Miami went on a run to pull ahead and rip the game open once and for all.
Despite keeping up with Miami for a bit, the Knicks never once truly had control themselves. Playing an NBA champ with all the pressure on the world on their own collective shoulders, New York looked rather timid throughout. They were unable to assert themselves as a team worth competing with the home team for 48 full minutes.
The pressure was on, and the Knicks certainly cracked under it. In a way, they beat themselves in South Beach, more so than the Heat did.
Shooting just 38% from the field, New York played somewhat respectable in parts of this contest, but in no way was that enough to take down a champion. The Knicks looked a step behind down the stretch, and when the team finally began to wake up a bit, it was too late. They played rather frantically, unable to calm things down as time ran out.
Ironically enough, though Anthony converted on just four shots from the field (out of seventeen attempts), he did receive a bit of help across the board. The Knicks had five players score in double-figures, and Iman Shumpert added 9 off the bench. No one else scored.
Likely to be lost in this crushing defeat was the solid play of Raymond Felton. The otherwise struggling floor general added 15 points, dished out 5 assists, and grabbed 4 steals. More importantly, he had a plus/minus of +10 in the loss.
With Anthony struggling, J.R. Smith stepped up to have a marvelous game while leading the Knicks’ offense. He tied a season-high of 32 points, and converted on an eye-popping ten field goals from downtown. Such a stat marks a new franchise record, helping the swingman leapfrog previous record-holder Toney Douglas (among tied others), who started for Miami on Sunday.
The Knicks’ magic number (for better or for worse) is now four — any combination of New York losses and/or Atlanta Hawks’ wins will knock the team out of playoff contention.