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To Make the Playoffs, Knicks Still Have Work to Do

Adam Hunger/ReutersAmar’e Stoudemire of the Knicks driving to the basket against the Bulls earlier this month.On the surface, comparisons between Jeremy Lin, the Knicks sensation, and Tim Tebow, the N.F.L. quarterback, are ridiculous, regardless of their religious devotion.Tebow won the Heisman Trophy and two national championships while playing at the University of Florida, a college football powerhouse. He was drafted in the first round and was expected by many to succeed at the N.F.L. level, even if some thought his success would not come at the quarterback position.Lin, the N.B.A.’s player of the week for Feb. 6 to Feb. 12, played his college basketball at Harvard, a school known more for producing presidents than point guards. He failed to draw any interest heading into the draft and was released by the two teams who signed him before the Knicks.The two players’ paths converge in the fact that both of them were on struggling teams with losing records that suddenly got back into playoff contention, with the only change seemingly be an increase in their playing time. Before Lin’s breakout performance against the Nets on Feb. 4, the Knicks were 8-15 and were 10th in the Eastern Conference standings, 2.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the final playoff spot. With five consecutive victories, the once hapless Knicks have overtaken the Bucks by 1 game through Monday and currently control their own playoff destiny.Tebow inherited a 1-4 team and proceeded to go 7-4 the rest of the way, clinching a playoff spot on the season’s final day.In a way, the most interesting aspect of the streak for the Knicks and Lin is the not fact that they are suddenly playoff contenders, but that a five-game winning streak has not done even more to improve the team’s position in the standings in the traditionally weaker Eastern Conference.The conference remains top-heavy, with the Heat and Bulls leading the way by a wide margin, but currently six teams in the conference boast a winning percentage of .600 or above. Last season just four teams from the East finished with a winning percentage that high, and the Pacers made the playoffs despite being a dreadful 8 games below .500.Closing in on this season’s halfway point, the top six seeds in the East appear to be set, with Heat and Bulls in the top spots and the Sixers, Hawks, Pacers and Magic all jockeying for Nos. 3-6. The real competition will be for the 7 and 8 spots, with the Celtics, Knicks, Bucks and the surprising Cavaliers all within 4.5 games of each other. Lin has been a catalyst for an extraordinary comeback by the Knicks, and with Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony expected back soon, the team could easily coast to the playoffs provided Coach Mike D’Antoni can keep the egos of his stars balanced with the good of the team.But with four teams trying for two spots, the enormous hole that the Knicks dug for themselves earlier this season gives them almost no margin for error. The thought of a hole deep enough that an Eastern Conference team could not climb out of it was a foreign concept as recently as last season, but for the Knicks it may soon be a reality.

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