By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
NEW YORK – The New York Knicks’ playoff chances took three hits Friday night.
Blow No. 1: The Atlanta Hawks crushed the Cleveland Cavaliers, tying New York with 33 wins.
Blow No. 2: The Knicks lost a nail-biter to the Washington Wizards to fall two games behind the Hawks in the loss column. (Atlanta would have the tie-breaker.)
Blow No. 3: Carmelo Anthony suffered a right shoulder strain that will likely affect him in the team’s final five games.
Anthony said that he actually hurt the shoulder in Wednesday’s win over Brooklyn, but the effects were clear on Friday, when he scored just 10 points and turned the ball over nine times, a total that doesn’t include a fumble on the last possession of the game, because J.R. Smith recovered the ball and missed the game-winner.
Prior to the game, Knicks coach Mike Woodson lauded Anthony for his consistency this season.
“He’s been there every night,” Woodson said. “I don’t think anybody can point the finger at Melo for anything. Everybody’s starting to come together, but Melo has been there from Day 1. His numbers have indicated that.”
Then Anthony played his worst game of the season. At one point, he was forced to call timeout because his shoulder “gave out.”
Anthony isn’t going to miss any time (x-rays were negative), but the Knicks have to worry about his effectiveness for their final five games, during which his streak of making the playoffs every season of his career will be on the line.
If the Hawks beat the teams behind them in the standings (Detroit, Boston and Milwaukee) and lose to the teams ahead of them (Indiana, Brooklyn, Miami and Charlotte), they will finish 36-46, and the Knicks would need to finish 37-45 to make the playoffs.
That would require a 4-1 record against the Heat, Raptors (twice), Bulls and Nets. New York has won 12 of its last 16 games, but is currently 4-7 against that group.
There are two small reasons for optimism. First, after their trip to Miami, the Knicks have four days off (an opportunity for Anthony to heal) before visiting Toronto on Friday. Second, their 24th-ranked defense might have finally come around, having allowed just 96.5 points per 100 possessions over their last four games.
Improved D gives the Knicks a fighting chance in these last five games, even if Anthony isn’t at full strength. It certainly gave them an opportunity to win Friday’s game despite his poor performance.
Alas, that one got away. And now the Knicks are in a real tough spot.