Mike Woodson guided the Hawks to only 13 wins in his first season as an NBA coach, but he calls this season his most difficult and challenging on the bench. Woodson thinks it can be salvaged if the Knicks can go on a big run and sneak into the playoffs.
"If you look at the East, that eight spot might be secured at 35 to 38 wins, so it's still up for grabs," Woodson said on ESPN New York radio Thursday. "I don't want our guys to quit and think they don't have an opportunity to go after it. You got to play for something, and that's what we're trying to go after right now."
The Knicks, who went 54-28 last season and 18-6 after Woodson replaced Mike D'Antoni the previous season, are 22-40, in 11th place in the conference and 51/2 games behind Atlanta for the final playoff spot. If Woodson's math is correct, they will need to win from 13 to 16 of their remaining 20 games and hope teams directly ahead of them lose plenty.
It seems unlikely, especially because the Knicks would have to climb over three teams, but they do have a relatively favorable schedule immediately ahead of them.
Starting Friday night, when Utah visits the Garden, the Knicks play five straight games against sub-.500 teams and nine of 10 overall against teams with losing records.
The Knicks haven't thrived in this situation recently, as they blew double-digit leads at Orlando, Atlanta and Detroit during the seven-game losing streak that ended with Wednesday's win at Minnesota.
But with the clock ticking on the Knicks' season -- and likely Woodson's tenure -- he hopes that game was the start of something.
"I don't accept losing and being in this position, but we have put ourselves in this position," he said. "There's still maybe a little light at the end of the tunnel if we can put a string of wins together and get back in the race."
Woodson said he puts the blame for the Knicks' struggles "all on my shoulders," but he continues to point to injuries as a big reason they have underachieved. He also said he hopes this season doesn't hurt his reputation as a coach.
"The last two years, I think we made major strides in terms of where this team has been for a number of years," Woodson said. "I know we made major strides, put it that way. And to go back the other way, it's been tough for all of us.
"I haven't forgotten how to coach, there's no doubt about that. Our record doesn't indicate that, and that's the downside of coaching. I've got to continue to work. I've got to continue to push players to be better.''
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