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Schmeelk: Knicks Rule The 4th Quarter; Can They Rule The Playoffs?

Carmelo Anthony (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Carmelo Anthony (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

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By John Schmeelk
» More Columns

When the Knicks have played well this season, it’s been because of their offense. It’s simple: when they shoot well and score, they win games.

Through the good times and bad, their defense has been consistently mediocre, ranking 16th in the league and allowing 103.4 points per 100 possessions (defensive rating) over the course of the season. The only potential playoff teams ranked lower on defense are Brooklyn, Utah, Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles. It would seem to be a fatal flaw that’s been covered up by a ridiculous offensive stretch.

The Knicks have to play better defense in the playoffs if they want to get to the Eastern Conference finals and challenge the Heat. But why would the defense get better now? A closer look says it might just be possible.

In fourth quarters this season, the Knicks are the third-best defensive team in the NBA, with a defensive rating of 98.9. No other team in the upper echelon comes close to that type of jump between their overall fourth-quarter performances.

Just take a look at how much better the Knicks’ defense has been in the final quarter:

Quarter Off Rt Def Rt Net Rt +/-
1st 108.3 (4th) 102.9 (16th) 5.4 (8th) +1.1 (9th)
2nd 111.4 (3rd) 106.5 (22nd) 4.8 (8th) +1.0 (8th)
3rd 106.8 (6th) 104.8 (19th) 2.0 (10th) +.2 (12th)
4th 109.3 (3rd) 98.9 (3rd) 10.4 (2nd) +2.2 (3rd)

The Knicks’ offense remains relatively consistent regardless of the quarter, but their defense in the fourth becomes elite. The only two teams with better fourth-quarter plus-minuses are the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers, and only barely so (both are at +2.3).  The Heat and Spurs are the only teams with better fourth-quarter offenses, and the Clippers and Wizards are the only teams with better fourth quarter-defenses.

One of the most frustrating things about watching the Knicks this season has been their inconsistency. At times they look disinterested and unwilling to play hard. Then they’ve shown the ability to flip the switch when they want to, especially on the defensive end. The question the Knicks will answer in the playoffs is whether they can sustain that type of defensive effort prior to the fourth quarter. If they can, this team has the ability to beat just about everyone in the NBA.

The numbers also might prove the common narrative that Mike Woodson and the Knicks struggle offensively at the ends of games is a myth. I don’t have the ability to track how the team scores in the final moments of close games, but the fact that the fourth is the team’s second best scoring quarter provides some evidence that it isn’t true. The Knicks are one of the best scoring teams in the fourth quarter, despite only shooting 35 percent from three-point land. Carmelo Anthony is a big part of that, and so is J.R. Smith.

Of course, the regular season numbers won’t mean anything until the Knicks do it in the playoffs. They should take a lot of pride in winning their division, but holding on to the No. 2 seed is even more important. Their magic number is three. They’ll need to reach it if they want the best shot at getting to the Eastern Conference finals. The playoffs start two weekends from now, and they can’t get here fast enough.

The Knicks hope they can finish their season as well as they have their games.

Schmeelk’s Snippets

- Of course, if the Knicks can’t get their two big men ready for the playoffs, the numbers won’t mean a whole lot. With the Knicks rumored to be close to signing James Singleton, it likely means either one or both of Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler will be held out for the remainder of the regular season due to injury. The Knicks need to do what they have to do in order to have both guys ready for the playoffs. It’s the only way they are going to go far in the postseason.

You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.

How far will the Knicks go in the playoffs if healthy? Sound off in the comments!