The fact that the Knicks failed to make the playoffs last season for the first time in four years is not lost on anyone, but what often gets overlooked is that throughout all the issues of a 37-45 season, the team missed a postseason berth by one game.
One. Lousy. Game.
Mathematically, it was actually two games when you consider they did not have the tiebreaker against the Atlanta Hawks, who got in with a 38-44 record.
We could pour through the schedule to find that one game that might have cost the Knicks and it’s easy to point directly to their last game against the Hawks, a 107-98 defeat in Atlanta on Feb. 22. A game in which the Knicks held a big lead in the third quarter, but fumbled it away.
But I go farther back than just that one bad night, which came on a back-to-back after another defeat snatched from the jaws of victory 24 hours prior in Orlando (a 129-121 2OT loss to the Magic).
To me, the issues started at the beginning. The Knicks opened the season 3-13, thanks to a 9-game losing streak. It’s almost impossible to recover from that kind of a start. With a 16-5 finish, they almost did.
There are much lower expectations for the Knicks this coming season, which has the look and feel of a transition year as all that cap space -- and the potential of what it can turn into -- awaits next summer, as many early predictions suggest this team will not finish among the top-8 in the East.
Rookie head coach Derek Fisher, however, already said he expects his team to be there at the end of the season.
“Even if nothing else changes,” Fisher said last month at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, “we’re good enough to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. But we have to go out and prove it.”
A good start will certainly help that mission.
The NBA released the 2014-15 schedule on Wednesday and at first glance, Fisher’s Knicks will be challenged from the get-go. Opening night is Oct. 29 at Madison Square Garden against Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and the Chicago Bulls, the team Carmelo Anthony strongly considered as a free agent before he chose to return to New York.
“That’s a situation where I could have walked in now to an opportunity to compete for the next however-many years,” Melo told ESPN.com when discussing the Bulls.
But Melo always said his preference was to stay. He moved once and didn’t want to go through that transition again. So he took close to his max contract and put his faith in Phil Jackson.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I can end my career,” he said.
So instead of joining the Bulls to create a championship contending duo with Rose, Melo remained in New York to try to beat Chicago. With the injury to Paul George in Indiana and LeBron James’ departure from Miami, the Bulls are now the team that stands in the way of Melo’s championship quest.
Speaking of LeBron, after the Knicks open the season with Chicago, they travel to Cleveland to participate in King James’ heralded return to the Cavaliers the very next night. The Cavs are basically replacing the Heat when it comes to the East’s superteam, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (the trade is expected to be official in two weeks) playing the role of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh
So about that good start the Knicks need…
The schedule this season doesn’t have any abnormalities. The longest road trip is five games (the usual West Coast swing from Mar. 9-15) and the longest homestand is four (early on, from Nov. 10-16). They will play 20 back-to-backs, and 47 of the 82 games are on one day of rest.
The holiday schedule is loaded as usual, with a noon tip-off Christmas Day at The Garden against John Wall and the Washington Wizards. The Knicks host Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans on Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 19) with a 5:30 PM tip. And will we see the return of the green jerseys for when the defending champion San Antonio Spurs come to town on St. Patrick’s Day?
By the way, how about facing the Spurs in the first home game back, just a day after returning from a five-game West Coast trip?
The Knicks also play on Easter Sunday evening (Apr. 5) at The Garden against the 76ers.
The Knicks travel will also include a jaunt across the pond to London on Jan. 15, where they will face Jason Kidd's Milwaukee Bucks at O2 Arena as part of the NBA Global Games program.
And we can't forget that New York will be the epicenter of the NBA for All-Star Weekend, Feb. 13-15, with Madison Square Garden as the stage for the game.
In a very competitive East, it may take winning the Atlantic Division to make the playoffs this season. The Knicks play the Brooklyn Nets Apr. 1, the last of their four games against their cross-town rivals, while their final meeting with their defending division champion Raptors is Mar. 22 in Toronto.
The final month of the season seems relatively light, but it’s impossible to judge strength of schedule that late in the season before any games are played. Here’s what matters most: The Knicks have to make sure those games have meaning.