For the New York Knicks, this holiday season arrives with much more Christmas cheer than the one before.
A year ago, Mike D'Antoni's crew was prepping for a season that, in reality, was doomed from the start. Without a legit point guard on the roster, and still no proof of cohesion between Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, there was no true plan for success. It was only a matter of time before the 2011-12 Knickerbockers proved they were never worthy of a title.
This Dec. 25, Mike Woodson's Knicks couldn't wish to be in a better position. At 20-7, they're looking down on the rest of the Eastern Conference alongside the Miami Heat. It's the season of giving, and right now, New York is giving much of the league fits.
To receive the ultimate gift—a gold trophy—here's what the Knicks should wish for this Christmas.
In Carmelo Anthony's Stocking: Composure
It hasn't been all candy canes and gumdrops for MVP-candidate Anthony this season. Though averaging 28 points and 6 boards per contest, and playing at the highest efficiency of his career, 'Melo has been on the wrong end of a few too many suspect calls.
He's tied for the league lead in technical fouls with eight. Although 'Melo has been at the top of his game almost all season long, he has occasionally let his frustrations seep into his performance, as seen below:
Anthony's already halfway to the magic number of 16 techs, which is the amount that'll cost him a one-game suspension. We're just under a third of the way through the year. A bit of patience and composure would go a long way in ensuring Carmelo contributes to his fullest abilities as the season progresses.
Continued Health for Team's Veterans
It's no secret that the Knicks sport one of the NBA's oldest rosters. Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and Pablo Prigioni are all over the age of 35. The key to sustaining the early-season dominance they've enjoyed will be the health of their aging pieces.
Kidd missed five games earlier this season with back spasms. Wallace has sporadically sat-out games and currently is out with a stress reaction in his foot (via ESPN New York). Marcus Camby hasn't played in the team's last 14 matchups due to plantar fasciitis.
All three men project to be important role players for the Knicks down the stretch, and their absence in the second half of the season can only hurt the team on the whole. If New York's vets stay suited up, there's no reason it shouldn't compete for the grand prize.
A Healthy and Humble Amar'e Stoudemire
The Knicks will need Stoudemire to possibly embrace a lesser role this season, and thankfully there's no reason to believe he would object.
When Stoudemire does return to the Knicks lineup (presumably sometime after their road trip to close out 2012, according to the New York Daily News) all eyes will undoubtedly be on the 30-year-old former All-Star.
It's yet to be determined if STAT will contribute as a starter or reserve, but regardless, there will need to be an improvement in the power forward's play from last season.
Whether Amar'e comes off the bench or not, odds are he will be on the court with Anthony in crunch time. It would simply be unwise to have one of the game's dominant offensive weapons on the sidelines when it matters the most. Thus, Stoudemire and Anthony will need to be able to coexist.
In their one preseason game together this year, Coach Woodson seemed to have a plan to make the situation work. Aside is a set the Knicks ran last October.
The Knicks will need a checklist of things from Amar'e upon his return:
- His willingness to accept a bench role, which, by all accounts, he will provide
- His health. The Knicks will need him and the depth he provides in the stretch run and beyond.
- His cooperation with Anthony when the two stars play simultaneously
Stoudemire has brought nothing but grace and a team-first and winning mentality to New York ever since he arrived in Manhattan donning his blue Knicks fitted cap in July of 2010. In 2012-13, it'll only be right that STAT gets to be a part of the culmination. It's mainly a matter of if his faulty injuries damn him once again.
You can follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.
All stats are accurate as of games played through Dec. 23.