Maybe the reason we've been playing so bad lately is that we're not playing for anything.
The regular season is 82 games long. Everywhere you look in the NBA, players take huge chunks of nights off. They have to. If the Celtics or Lakers go through a stretch similar to our own recent vomit-streak, only a few people would even notice because they will win one or two more of those games (both because they're better teams and because they're extremely well-rehearsed compared to us). Legs get fatigued and injuries linger -- and despite the extremely high standard we place on our professional athletes, as we should, motivation is a huge factor. As any sports book shark will tell you, figuring out people's motivation is the key to making a good bet, and from an outside look, our team just has nothing to play for.
I'm not trying to stick up for NBA players -- they do get millions of dollars to play a sport they probably love, but the difference between the 6th, 7th and 8th seed is just about academic, and we've been all but locked into this range for weeks. People have their opinions about who would be a better first found match up, but no matter how you look at it, we're going to be playing one of the best 3 teams in round 1. Plus, nobody who's playing meaningful minutes is playing for a contract, unless you count Billups who has a team option (and is not only tired and injured but old too). The only difference between 45 wins and 40 wins is the symbolism of being a plus-500 team.
And the motivation works both ways. Other teams are more motivated to play us, especially the ones that have little to play for this year (and players who are playing for a contact). If you're a player on the Bobcats, or dare I even say the Cavs, are you have three games coming up on the schedule -- all meaningless -- and they're the Thunder, the Pistons and the Knicks, you're going to circle the Knicks game, especially if they're struggling, knowing that game will get a SportsCenter segment win or lose. The Knicks are suffering from Duke syndrome, getting everyone's best, without the benefit of being an elite team yet.
And I do mean yet. I'm not saying we should extend D'Antoni, he's nowhere near the perfect coach for this team's strengths, but to suggest he should be fired for not being able to fire up this team is absurd. Just look at the Orlando game for what a motivated Knicks team can do, and look at the fact that we're 7-4 against +500 teams since the trade against the fact that we only have one win against a sub-500 team (the first game, no less), and take a deep breath. It's been so long we've probably forgotten, but teams turn it on in the playoffs, and we will too.
Just my take on it. Sorry that ran so long.