The New York Knicks entered the first day of January 2004 with 14 wins and 19 losses on the 2003-2004 season. While they would lose 4 straight games to start the year, it would turn out to be a good year for the 32nd street crew. The Knicks went 25-24 the rest of the way and made the playoffs for the first time in 3 years. Against the New Jersey Nets in the playoffs, New York received a whooping the size of Tim Thomas’ lower back bruise. Still the Knicks improvement was celebrated by their fans, and the summer of 2004 would bring a ray of hope for New York.
Isiah Thomas signed Jamal Crawford to sow up two gaping holes. Crawford would provide insurance for Allan Houston’s knee, while his ball handling skills would make him able to play point guard when required. Jerome Williams was a minor addition, while Trevor Ariza and Mike Sweetney showed promise in the summer league. Based on their good second half and the additions they made in the offseason, the Knicks were favorites to win the newly diluted Atlantic division.
Facing a seemingly tough schedule, the usually optimistic Isiah Thomas hoped his team would go 10-10 in their first 20 games of the 2004-2005 season. After a 34 point debacle in Boston, the Knicks were off to a bleak 0-2 start. However, they rebounded from their early ineptitude, and met their president’s expectations of 10-10. In December, New York won 6 and lost 3, and entered 2005 with a 16-13 record.
Considering the two years before, 2004 was a success for the Knicks. After two lottery seasons, they had seemed to turn the corner. They made the playoffs in the summer. By the winter, the Knicks were 3 games up in the win column, their best record in 4 years. No one else in their division was over .500. From January to December of 2004, the Knicks were 41-37. It seemed that 2005 would be even better than 2004 for boys in orange and blue.
It’s hard to believe that was only one month ago. Since the ball last dropped in Times Square, the Knicks have lost 14 of their last 16. In one 8 day stretch, the Knicks lost 4 games; two back-to-back to the baby-Bulls, and one each to the single digit win Hornets and division rival Raptors. Three days after, their coach had resigned. Right now, they are tied for last in the weakest division in the NBA.
So far in 2005, the Knicks’ have been bitten by the injury bug. Mike Sweetney was incapacitated for 4 games, which is the exact number of games that Penny Hardaway has played in. When Trevor Ariza twisted his ankle, he suffered his first injury as a pro. Both shooting guards have missed a combined 12 games. Allan Houston’s future is uncertain, and the expensive guard has refused any talk of retirement. Being strapped by Houston’s contract is bad enough, but not being able to get any production for their money is the deepest cut.
For 2005 the question becomes: is the Knicks 2-14 record the exception or the rule? Even if the Sixers remain two games under .500, New York would have to go 21-14 the rest of the way to retake the Atlantic. Tough, but not impossible. Right now the onus is on the players and coaches to steer the ship from crash landing in April. If not, this summer it’ll be up to Isiah to give New Yorkers back the hope that they had only a year ago.