Rejoice Knicks fans! The New York Knicks have clinched the number four seed in the Eastern Conference. This is the first time the Knicks have made the playoffs since the 2012-2013 season. In only a 72 game season, the knicks won 41 games. That is more than the previous two seasons combined. No one expected the Knicks to be in this situation at the beginning of the season. Many projections had the Knicks winning around 20 games and being an embarrassment once again. Tom Thibodeau and Julius Randle would have none of that. They are facing the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. This is a very winnable series for the Knicks. Let’s preview the opening round series between the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks.
Julius Randle Owns the Hawks
Julius Randle dominated the Hawk this season. In 3 games against the Hawks this season, Randle averaged 37.3 points per game, 12.3 rebounds, and 6.7 assists. So far, there is nothing that Hawks have done that can slow down Julius Randle. John Collins can not stop Julius Randle, he can only hope to contain him. Randle has been the Knicks most important player all season and they got the dream matchup for Randle to continue his career season.
Containing Trae Young
It is no secret that the guy the Knicks need to worry about the most is Trae Young. Young can light it up from anywhere on the floor and will be the Knicks number one priority on defense. Young averaged 25.3 points per game and over 9 assists a game this season. He is by far the Hawks best and most important player. The Hawks go as far as Trae Young can take them. I would love to see Frank Ntilikina get more playing time in this series as his primary role should be a shut down defender on Trae Young. Hound him and pound him as Clyde Frazier would say.
The elephant in the locker room is Elfrid Payton. For some unknown reason, Tom Thibodeau insists on keeping Elfrid Payton in the starting line up. Not once this season have the Knicks won because of Elfrid Payton. They win despite of Elfrid Payton. He does not contribute one bit to winning basketball. The man is a liability on both ends of the floor. He can’t shoot so his man will often leave him open to go double the ball. There is zero reason he should be getting any time over Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley, or even Frank Ntilikina. At least Ntilikina can be a shutdown defender. Payton offers zero positivity while on the floor.
Controlling the Boards
With Mitchell Robinson still out with an injury, the Knicks may have some trouble controlling the boards. Clint Capela is one of the best rebounders in the NBA. Therefore, Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson will have their hands full with boxing him out. Capela averaged 15.2 points per game and 14.3 rebounds pergame. Noel will have his work cut out for him in trying to contain Capela on the glass.
Final Thoughts and Prediction
With the Knicks having home court, the Garden should be buzzing with excitement. The NBA is better when the Knicks are a quality basketball team. For some reason, the Knicks opened as the underdog in the series, but that should give them more motivation to prove the doubters wrong. I see the Knicks winning this series in no more than 6 games. They swept the season series against Atlanta and expect them to carry that dominance over into the playoffs. This should be a very exciting series between the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks.
-Pete Chatterton (@Pchat12)
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