Ailments To Joel Embiid, Greek Freak and Damian Lillard Have Opened Lane for Knicks To Advance To Eastern Conference Finals

The New York Knicks have made it out of basketball’s abyss and are officially into the mix as Eastern Conference contenders. It’s been a long road back to optimism and opportunity for the Madison Square Garden-dwellers.

Since winning the division in 2012-13 behind Melo and Amare Stoudemire, James Dolan’s franchise has been a running joke in NBA circles. 

The Philadelphia 76ers will take on the New York Knicks in Game 2 of their first-round NBA playoff series. The Knicks lead 1-0 in the best-of-seven series.

Can Knicks Advance To Eastern Conference Finals?

That’s right. The New York Knicks look headed for a run to the Eastern Conference Finals led by former Villanova stars Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and a band of hard-nosed ballers who utilize defense to create offensive opportunities.

The Knicks are feeling good, and in position to shock the NBA. Rising to the No 2 seed in the East was enough of an accomplishment for these new Knicks. With injuries affecting various stars of the NBA, it has opened up a window for the Knicks to advance to the Conference Finals. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo is ailing, and a Herculean effort was needed by ‘Dame Time’ Lillard (35 first half points) for the Milwaukee Bucks to post a convincing 109-94 victory in Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs.

Greek Freak Is Ailing

Giannis has been dealing with a variety of ailments, including a left calf injury which sidelined him for the Game 1 win. He has reportedly been moving and doing light shooting but the date of his return is unknown. 

Who knows what physical shape he will be in when he does return? The Pacers might even be able to take advantage of Giannis’ absence as the series continues. Especially if they can stretch it to seven games and he still isn’t back. 

The Knicks wouldn’t mind playing the Indiana Pacers or a Milwaukee Bucks without their best player. Any way you slice it, it’s an advantage for a Knicks team that has been playing without Julius Randall but continues to ride their best player in Jalen Brunson. 

Joel Embiid Is Ailing

Why would we prematurely be jumping to the next round with the Knicks facing the 2023 MVP Joel Embiid and the underrated seventh-seed Sixers? 

Per usual, Embiid’s health is an issue and he’s been listed as questionable after hurting his left leg Saturday night. Head coach Nick Nurse told reporters Embiid is feeling “pretty good.”

Embiid hurt his leg, landing awkwardly after a dazzling dunk, where he threw the ball to himself off the backboard, swarmed by three defenders, caught it and flushed it. 

The 2023 MVP has only played 39 games this season and missed nearly two months after having left meniscus surgery Feb. 6. He still appears to be limited, short of the dominant player who dropped 70 just before his injury.

It was a scary moment for Philly fans, but Embiid did return and tried his best, but who knows how effective he will be for the remainder of this series? The Knicks are definitely the favorites to win it at this point. 

Basketball Gods Are Smiling Upon Knicks

Shunned in the past by LeBron James and other high-profile free agents, the franchise ushered in the Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony era. Save for some exciting scoring moments and a few playoff appearances, those teams fell miserably short of the intended championship goal. 

They landed Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 draft and he blossomed into an All-Star cornerstone piece until he tore his ACL in February 2018, had a riff with the front office and never played for New York, subsequently being traded away the following season.

If the Knicks advance past Philadelphia in the NBA playoffs and continue to win games, they might be meeting Porzingis’ Boston Celtics in the Conference Finals. 

Can you believe it?

If you don’t think the basketball gods have already proved their allegiance to this Knicks team, Tyrese Maxey, who is a finalist for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, missed shootaround Monday morning with an illness. He’s also listed as questionable.

Maxey is the Sixers’ second-best player, but most important, especially with Embiid hobbled, he is counted on to provide 30-point explosions. With either player out, advantage Knicks. With Maxey out, the Knicks should take a 2-0 lead in the series heading back to Philly for Game 3 on April 25. 

Leon Rose NBA Executive of the Year?

Knicks president Leon Rose, a former agent who at one time represented Allen Iverson and LeBron James, has finally won the fans over after some concern when he was first hired. Knicks fans had come to be pessimistic and the public opinion about Knicks management and especially ownership was at an all-time low, due to several embarrassing incidents between owner James Dolan, fans and former Knicks legends.

Rose came in and did a masterful job at constructing a winning roster this offseason, making effective moves, bringing in Donte DiVincenzo off the scrap heap and getting OG Anunoby. His maneuvering has put him in contention for the 2024 Executive of the Year award. 

Everything is falling right for the Knicks, who have given New York basketball fans a reason to get into the championship spirit again. It would be beyond a long shot if the Knicks did advance to the NBA championship. Boston is still the clear favorite, especially with Milwaukee facing injury uncertainty. 

But the basketball mojo is back in Mecca. The Garden was indeed packed, and the stars were out. Regardless of what happens in these playoffs, the Knicks are relevant again.

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