Shortly before tip-off against the Utah Jazz on Saturday, the New York Knicks received word that PF Amar’e Stoudemire will miss 6 weeks due to problems with his infamously uninsurable knees. Stoudemire, who missed the first 30 games of the season while recovering from a left knee debridement, will now undergo the same procedure in his right knee. It’s devastating news for the Knicks big man, who had been playing well and exhibiting signs of his former explosive self lately, averaging over 14 points in limited minutes off the bench.
If the injury announcement affected the rest of the Knicks players, it didn’t show in a blowout win at home to the Jazz that night, despite also playing without the team’s MVP, Carmelo Anthony. But the road gets much tougher for New York from here on out, as they begin a five game West Coast road trip against the Golden State Warriors tonight. The good news for the Knicks is that Anthony has announced he will return to face the Warriors, after missing the past three and a half games with his own knee issues. The bad news is that New York will now play 5 games in 8 days, and none of them will be easy.
Tonight’s game against Golden State will feature point guard Stephen Curry, who lit up the Knicks for 54 points at Madison Square Garden on February 27th. New York came out a winner in that one as Curry cooled off towards the end, but he will surely look to rewrite the narrative on his home turf tonight. The Knicks then have a day off before their game in Denver, where the Nuggets are 28-3 at the Pepsi Center, and will play the following night against the Portland Trail Blazers, always difficult to beat at the Rose Garden. New York finishes up with another back-to-back, in Los Angeles to face Chris Paul and the Clippers, who won by double digits last month in New York, before finally closing out the trip next Monday in Utah. The last game in Salt Lake City looks to be the easiest of the five, but by then Knicks should be feeling the effects of extended travel and will face a Jazz team looking to avenge Saturday’s lopsided loss.
With this tough slate of games on tap, a 3-2 finish for the trip should be considered a success. It will continue to be difficult until the finish, as the Knicks will play 13 of their final 22 games away from home, including the aforementioned West Coast swing. New York still has to make crucial trips to Boston, Miami, Oklahoma City, and Chicago, and will also have tough games at home against Memphis, the Celtics, and Indiana. The focus will be on avoiding a drop down to the four seed, which means having to face the Heat in the second round of the playoffs. With the way Miami is playing, New York fans will hope to delay seeing them for as long as possible, and will certainly root for the lower seeded teams to eliminate them before any potential match up. That possibility seems remote, however, and the Knicks must expect to see the Heat at some point, although they will likely have to battle past the Pacers first.
If Stoudemire is out for the reported 6 weeks, that should set his return date right around April 20th. The Knicks last regular season game is April 17th at home to the Atlanta Hawks, which means the best case scenario is a comeback for game 1 of the playoffs. In the meantime, role players Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby, and Kurt Thomas will have to step up and provide quality minutes to ensure that center Tyson Chandler doesn’t get overworked and stays out of foul trouble. On the other hand, the injury to Amar’e should solidify New York’s crunch team line up, with Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith, Anthony, and Chandler expected to close out games. Iman Shumpert could also see minutes for his defensive presence, and Steve Novak may be called upon to hit some big fourth quarter shots. The news on Saturday was a blow, but the Knicks have the pieces to hang tough until playoff time, and will hope to start off the road trip with a W in the Bay Area tonight.