ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith sets high expectations for Knicks ahead of the postseason

Stephen A. Smith (Knicks)
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks have earned the respect of the mass media, thanks in large part to the quick rise of Jalen Brunson. One of the most notable ESPN personalities, Stephen A. Smith, brought out a bold prediction last week for how far the Knicks can go this season:

“For the moment, it’s about the Boston Celtics. Am I worried about the Cleveland Cavaliers? No. If the New York Knicks come back healthy, they’re going to the Conference Finals,” said Smith via ESPN’s NBA Today (h/t BasketballOnX/X).

The Knicks have proven that they can beat anybody

New York is currently fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 35-23 record. They have shown that they can hang around any team and be competitive throughout. Since acquiring OG Anunoby back in late December, the Knicks are 18-8, and have the league’s fourth-highest net rating at 8.2 in that span.

The Knicks fortified their depth at the trade deadline, bringing in Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks from the Detroit Pistons to give them two solid perimeter scorers for the second unit. New York has yet to see what a full-strength team looks like with Bogdanovic and Burks in the mix, as Julius Randle and Anunoby have been out with injuries since late January, and Mitchell Robinson has been out since December and could return in mid-to-late March.

However, the widespread expectation is that, when all three players return, the Knicks will be top dogs in the Eastern Conference with a realistic shot at reaching the Conference Finals — at minimum.

The Boston Celtics are the Knicks’ biggest obstacle

Alluding to Smith’s point, the main stipulation for New York is that they have struggled against the Boston Celtics, the East’s top-seeded team. They are 0-4 against Boston this year and have one game remaining against them at the end of the season in Boston. If the Knicks want to reach the NBA Finals, they will likely have to get past the Celtics at some point in the playoffs, barring an upset.

However, all four of those games this season against the Celtics have not featured the new-look Knicks, or a fully healthy Knicks squad. They will likely be back to full strength by their next meeting on April 11, but given that the game will be the third-to-last one of the season, neither team may need to play its starters. Therefore, a true matchup of powerhouses between the two may not occur until the playoffs.

The Knicks on paper are well-constructed and balanced in almost every area, with a strong emphasis placed on defense and three-point shooting. When the playoffs come, New York should be a tough matchup for anybody if they return to full strength in time, making Smith’s prediction look realistic.

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