Many believed the Miami Heat would cruise through the Eastern Conference with ease but after watching the New York Knicks dismantle the Boston Celtics Wednesday, they may have some trouble down the road.
Injuries have weakened most of the Heat’s main competition as Boston (Rajon Rondo), Indiana (Danny Granger) and Chicago (Derrick Rose) are all without top players while even New York is missing Amare Stoudemire, although that may not be the worst thing in the world.
Stoudemire told reporters Tuesday before the Knicks’ game that he may be available to play if his team advances to the second round.
“The blessing is we have such a great team,” Stoudemire told the New York Post’s Marc Berman before their 87-71 Game 2 victory over the Celtics. “They’re doing so well. If we continue to win, it gives me more time to heal up and be 100 per cent. That’s the blessing.”
Berman asked whether the second round is still a possibility and Stoudemire responded, "Yeah, if everything goes great, I'm willing to play sooner than later if everything continues to improve."
This sounds like déjà vu after Stoudemire missed the first two months of the season after undergoing knee surgery and the Knicks were forced to wonder how they would fit him back into the lineup.
He was again sidelined after needing the same operation in mid-March and similar questions will haunt the Knicks going forward.
Sandwiched in the middle of the two procedures were 29 appearances in which the Knicks struggled to a 16-13 record as the team tried to find out the best way to fit him into the rotation.
While he is undoubtedly a talented offensive threat, Stoudemire presents two major problems for the Knicks.
First off, the team is at its finest when they Carmelo Anthony plays power forward, Stoudemire's natural position. All season long, Anthony has created matchup problems when he has the ball in his hands while still having enough length and strength to trouble opposing bigs.
The second problem that will need to be sorted out is the fact that neither Stoudemire nor Anthony are known for their defensive abilities and with both on the floor it puts extra pressure on Tyson Chandler.
The Knicks ranked 16th in the NBA in points allowed per possession and were the league's worst shot-blocking team so even without Stoudemire, they have issues.
If Stoudemire is healthy next round, Knicks coach Mike Woodson said ghe will be a part of the rotation which could eat into Kenyon Martin's minutes who has been very strong early in these playoffs helping contain Boston's Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass.
The aging Knicks are matched up with a shorthanded Celtics squad who are also long in the tooth, lacking the horses to get out and run and punish New York in transition defence.
While I expect the Celtics to put up more of a fight as the series shifts to Boston, New York should still come out ahead in the end.
If and when they do advance to Round 2, the Knicks will be faced with some stiffer competition going forward.
The way things are looking, they could see a Pacers team next round that has more weapons and the ability to punish the Knicks for any sort of faux pas they make on the defensive end.
While the return of Stoudemire would be an asset to most teams, for the Knicks it could create problems going forward.
Woodson will have to figure out the best way to put the pieces together or the Knicks' season could end up as a disappointment.