Through the first 26 games of the 2012-2013 NBA season, the New York Knicks have started 19-7 and are in first place in the Eastern Conference. If you had told a Knicks fan that sentence would be fact six months ago, you would likely have ended up with a black eye or two.
The unlikelihood of New York's success doesn't change the fact that it is happening, though.
Perhaps chief among the reasons for this fast start has been the performance of Carmelo Anthony. Melo has not only put up the second most points in the league, but he has also shown a defensive intensity that had previously been lacking from his game.
A 19-7 start isn't enough to stop New York fans from worrying, though.
Forty years without a title keeps fans looking for what might go wrong, and right now that thing is Amar'e Stoudemire. The power forward has missed the entire season since getting surgery on his left knee.
Which seed will the Knicks finish the NBA season with?
According to Si.com , Stoudemire could return as soon the Christmas day game against the Los Angeles Lakers. For some observers, that means the rich will get richer. For others, it means throwing a wrench into the machinery that has been the play of Melo.
If Stoudemire Comes Off the Bench
Absolutely everything the Knicks have built over the past seven weeks goes to waste, and every fan's worst nightmare comes true. When Stoudemire is on the court, he gets in the way and takes touches away from Melo. Even when he's on the bench, the flow of the offense has been too interrupted to resume.
His emergence as a sixth man also frustrates J.R. Smith, who goes back to shooting his troubles away.
This causes enormous frustration from Carmelo, who sees an MVP-caliber start to the year go down the drain. Stoudemire gets mad that he doesn't get more touches or playing time. The locker room ambiance is ruined, and you're looking at the New York Jets.
Coming off the bench, Stoudemire is rarely on the court at the same time as Melo and leads the second team. Stoudemire plays as he did before Melo got to MSG since the pick-and-roll with Felton is working, and Melo continues to polish his MVP application.
Furthermore, Chandler manages to gel with both. With Stoudemire on the court the pair dominate with size, and with Melo on the court three-point shooting leads the way.
New York rides the depth of their bench to a first-place finish in the East, and having two stars late in games makes the Knicks a very legitimate title contender.
If Stoudemire Starts
To the delight, and somewhat surprise, of New York fans, everything works out. Stoudemire uses his mid-range jumper to pull defenders, which opens up room for Melo inside. He also uses his newly-acquired post moves to draw big men inside at other times so Melo can take advantage of his improved three-point shooting.
Both players have statistical success, which leaves them as kings of the Big Apple. The role players feed off of their leaders' willingness to set their egos aside, and you're looking at a team nobody wants to face in the playoffs.