As Stoudemire and the Knicks followed through with “plan B,” filling out the team with as much depth as possible, it was unclear how quickly (and/or how well) this new cast of characters would mesh.
However, after a slow 3-8 start, the Knicks surged, quickly becoming the talk of the NBA, winning 13 of 14 games to boost their record to 16-9.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, with surprising success comes the added pressure of continuing it. The team has experienced difficulties as of late, currently on a three game skid.
While the Knicks did push the Celtics to the limit during a tight loss, they were also blown out by the Heat, and subsequently shrunk down to size by the Lebron-less Cavaliers.
Whether the reason for such losses is growing pains for a team trying to find its way, or fatigue beginning to set in, it does not matter now. In order to be taken seriously and be considered a playoff contender, the Knicks need to win when they host the Thunder in New York on Wednesday night.
Although it was reasonable for the Knicks to lose to teams like the Celtics and Heat, beating the Cavaliers was certainly needed to soften the blow.
Instead, the team was sent home from Cleveland with their third straight loss, and much more daunting competition awaiting them.
That competition comes in the form of NBA’s leading scorer Kevin Durant and the Thunder.
Instead of opting to team up with his best friends, or journeying off to a city with much brighter lights, Durant has found a home (after signing a contract extension) in Oklahoma City, where he has already begun his legacy as the league’s most prolific scorer. Furthermore, he has also catapulted the Thunder into one of the Western Conference’s best teams.
Durant, an all-around player who can dominate the ball, shoot, rebound, play good defense and pass the ball, elevated his game to a new level this past summer by becoming the most visible leader of Team USA.
There is no doubt that that same mentality of leadership, teamwork, and pride has poured out during his play this season. That being said, Durant has also gotten additional help from young point guard Russell Westbrook, who has played like one of the league’s best floor generals thus far.
The Thunder’s two stars, in addition to their colossal depth, make them one of the NBA’s most unbeatable teams.
Luckily for the Knicks, they have (while perhaps not to the same degree) a lot of similar strengths that they essentially hope will help overcome the Thunder.
Right behind Durant for the NBA’s scoring lead is Stoudemire, whom has also taken his team on his back, carrying them to certain successes. In addition to utilizing his effective midrange jumper, Stoudemire should be able to use his strength to power his way to the hoop against a Thunder team which is weaker on the inside.
With the stakes high for the Knicks and pride on the line, Stoudemire is sure to go toe-to-toe with Durant on offense if that’s what it takes to keep the Knicks alive.
Also ready to fight tooth and nail with his individual competition will be Raymond Felton. While he may not be able to match Westbrook’s offensive production, it would be smart for Felton to pressure the ball and stay up on Westbrook on the defensive end, as he is very prone to turnovers.
Causing turnovers will obviously disrupt the flow of the Thunder’s offense, as well as create additional offensive opportunities for the Knicks. As Durant can often appear unstoppable, making Westbrook uncomfortable may be the key to the game for the Knicks.
Often praised for their depth as well, the Knicks also hope the past few days’ rest will be a boost to some of their more ragged players.
Playing (and seeing if they can beat) the Thunder is the perfect test for the Knicks. If the team stays competitive enough to pull out a victory, it will show the Knicks are a team with enough resilience in them to continue towards a playoff spot.
If the Knicks lose (and/or get blown out even), however, it will only deflate the team’s confidence that much more, potentially letting the team continue on a downward spiral that fans have seen many times before.
Once a team with unclear expectations, the Knicks will go up against the Thunder with something much more severe to prove Wednesday night.