After the New York Knicks dropped their second straight heart-breaker to Miami 98-96 Tuesday night I was fuming. I am sure most Knicks fans were. This is a game they should have won. I went to bed angrier than a starving fox who had just been chased out of the hen house. However, after a good night of sleep and some serious analyzing of the contest, things looked much better in the morning. Yes, it was still a loss. The score hadn’t changed when I opened up the morning paper, but there was a lot more to be optimistic about than I originally realized.
First of all, the Knicks were not playing chopped liver here. This was the Miami Heat. I know what you’re thinking. So what, that they came into the night behind New York in the standings. This is a squad that is just a few months removed from the NBA Finals this fall in the Orlando bubble. The Heat have a bonifide star in Jimmy Butler. A rising force in Bam Adebayo. And plenty of dangerous weapons around them with Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, among others. They have a veteran coach in Erik Spoelstra. Not to mention Miami is one of the better defensive teams in the league.
During two meetings in three days against the reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Knicks were competitive throughout. It would be easy to make the argument that Tom Thibodeau’s club played better than their opponent in both games and could have swept the home-and-home series. The Knicks were a missed RJ Barrett layup away from a potential win last night. A Kelly Olynyk three-point play doomed them on Sunday. Otherwise we are talking about New York’s four-game winning streak.
Secondly, even though many fans were concerned about the impact of the Derrick Rose trade on the playing time of Immanuel Quickley, the fear was unfounded. As a matter of fact, the two looked like a match made in heaven. Rose and Quickley teamed up in the second unit. Quickley was having a blast playing with Rose. He was smiling the entire time. The combo was successful. The lightning quick backcourt tandem led the Knicks on a 25-5 run in the late first and early second quarters. Rose scored 14 points in his debut.
Part of the reason Rose was clearly brought in was to serve as a mentor for Quickley.
“He just stressed to me — first of all he gave me his number — said anything I need just hit him,” Quickley said. “But he sat down with me a little bit, me and Obi actually, just told us he’s here to help us, he’s here to help us grow and things like that.
Finally, what we saw is a sneak peek of Thibodeau’s future plan. Well, for the remainder of this season at least. With the Knicks lacking a closer to help them pull out close games down the stretch, exepect to see Rose on the floor when the game is on the line. The veteran should play an integral role in insuring the Knicks can get the ball in the right guy’s hands so they can pull out games in the closing seconds. Thibodeau has now coached Rose in Chicago, Minnesota and New York and has extreme confidence in him.
“It’s obviously someone that I’m familiar with and we’ve been through a lot of things together,” Thibodeau said. “But the biggest part is what I felt he can contribute to our team.”
So, despite the brutal loss in South Beach, calm down Knicks fans. Last year at this point the Knicks had a 4-20 record and everyone was dreaming of getting the No. 1 pick in the draft. A playoff birth was nowhere on the radar. Now, just a few days ago New York was sitting in sixth place in the East. They are one of the top defensive teams in the NBA. That will keep them hovering around playoff position in itself. If they are buyers between now and the March trade deadline and add some perimeter shooting, the Knicks should be still playing past the conclusion of the regular season for the first time in six years.
(AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
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