Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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By JOSH NEWMAN & ADAM ZAGORIANEW YORK — The Knicks will face a critical choice in the 66th and final game of this lockout-shortened season.
Do they want to play the Miami Heat or the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs beginning this weekend?
Logic says the Bulls are a better matchup in part because of Derrick Rose’s injury status, but in order for the Knicks to face Chicago and finish as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference they would need to lose Thursday at Charlotte — losers of 22 straight games — and have the Philadelphia 76ers win at Detroit.
If the Knicks win or the Sixers lose, the Knicks will settle in at No. 7 and face the Heat.
The Knicks will fly directly from Charlotte to either the warmth of Miami or the cold of Chicago.
“Right now it really doesn’t matter,” Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony said after scoring 17 points but sitting out the fourth quarter in the Knicks’ 99-93 win over the L.A. Clippers at MSG. “Whoever we play we will have to start off on the road anyway. We just have to get ready to go.”
The Bobcats own the NBA’s worst record and it would take some work on the Knicks’ behalf to lose Thursday. Still, Charlotte has something to play for. They want to avoid finishing with the worst losing percentage in NBA history.
The Knicks, meantime, could rest several of their stars, including Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire and Baron Davis in order to prepare for a potential Saturday start in Game 1.
“I don’t think I’ll play [Thursday], I’m not sure yet,” Anthony said. “We’ll figure that out [Thursday].”
Chandler, who has been bothered by wrist injury and sat out Sunday’s win over Atlanta, said he plans to play limited minutes or not at all.
“It would need to be very minimum or I need to not play because I want to be smart about the sitaution and it’s more important for me to be fresh,” Chandler said.
Stoudemire has now played three games after missing 13 with a bulging disk in his back.
“It’s going to be a situation where Coach [Mike] Woodson makes the decision on whether we’re going to play or not,” Stoudemire said. “I think Coach Woodson will figure out whether we should rest or play. It’s up to him, whatever his call is, we’re open to it. We’re down for whatever.”
Woodson said he would “like to win” the final game, but also said he’d consider resting guys.
“There will be some limited minutes played [against Charlotte],” he said. “I’m not one to sit guys. They gotta tell me that they don’t want to play.”
The Knicks could have captured the No. 6 seed had the Orlando Magic lost, but that hope ended at 9:30 p.m. — in the third quarter of the Knicks game — when the Magic won, 102-95, at home against Charlotte.
The Garden faithful chanted “Beat the Heat” during the game’s final minutes, expressing a preference for playing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and company in the first round.
“The fans know what they want, fans know what they want to see,” Anthony said. “Hopefully, they get to see that.”
Unless the Knicks really want them to see the Bulls instead.
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.