January was a tough month for New York, with the team struggling to integrate Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and Amar'e Stoudemire whilst continuing to win. That said, struggles were to be expected with such major pieces playing their first basketball in a while.
Raymond Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire are now playing much better basketball after having had time to adjust, and Shumpert should follow suit as he racks up more game time and has his minutes limit increased.
With the trade deadline coming up, New York now has the chance to make some slight improvements for the second half, with rumors (via Alex Kennedy of Hoops World) of a move for Luke Ridnour and the recently released (via hoopsrumors.com) Lou Amundson heating up.
In a perfect world, the upcoming All-Star break will also give the Knicks an opportunity to get healthy, with Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace having more time to recover. Their eventual return will be a major factor defensively and on the boards.
Beyond that, when you look at the big picture, the Knicks have the making of a true title contender.
Most importantly, they know their identity and how they're supposed to beat teams on a game-to-game basis.
Much has been made of their tendency to shoot from outside, and because Carmelo Anthony is so good at drawing the double-team, open looks are always being created. There were worries about this not being sustainable, but so long as Melo is playing well, the shots are always going to be there.
As a result, we've seen the Knicks remain one of the league's top offenses throughout the season.
The problem for the moment is shots simply not falling. A lot of the guys the Knicks relied on earlier in the year are cold right now, but we should expect them to heat back up and give us what we expect from them soon.
Stoudemire's return to action has given the Knicks a great inside presence to turn to when the outside shots aren't falling, and he's playing the efficient basketball fans had hoped for off the bench. So far through his first 20 games back, he's averaging 13.6 points on 55.9 percent from the field.
When healthy, the make-up of the Knicks' roster—with so many experienced veterans—will make them a dangerous team when the postseason comes around. With guys like Sheed, Tyson Chandlerand Jason Kidd, the team has championship experience, which is key to contending for a title.
We've seen so far that the Knicks can hold their own against other contenders, with two convincing victories over both the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat. As a result, the Knicks now have the fifth-best record in the league, having sustained elite status even throughout rough patches as of late.
With the Eastern Conference remaining weak as Derrick Rose makes his recovery, New York should be able to earn home-court advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers could cause them problems if they meet in the postseason—just as they have in the regular season—but at full strength, the Knicks are good enough to knock off either in a seven-game series.
One of the more interesting things about the Knicks is how well they match up with the defending champion Heat. As they've shown twice this season, they are capable of causing them serious problems with their personnel and style of play, which specifically targets their weak areas.
They may not be the better team at this point, however, if the two teams were to eventually meet in the conference finals, the Knicks would have a genuine chance of advancing.
The stigma surrounding the Knicks that they can't compete for a title really comes more from their history than what they've done this season, but this is a flawed way to look at things.
The Knicks had major injuries in their last two playoff appearances, and they also had low playoff seeds due to the disruption the Melo trade caused in 2011 and Mike D'Antoni coaching the team in 2012. More to the point, the team simply hasn't been as talented as it is right now over the past two seasons.
The same applies to the idea that Melo can't win in the postseason. Though he's only gotten past the first round one time in his career, he's never been on a team this talented and has never played this well on a personal level.
Now that this talented, experienced roster is assembled, and the Knicks have some coaching consistency and a relatively weak conference to compete in, a title run isn't too far-fetched.
Admittedly, the Knicks have struggled to mesh since players have returned from injury, but this team still appears to have the making of a genuine title-contender.
They continue to be underrated and dismissed by critics, but it would be a big mistake to sleep on a team like the Knicks.
Stats used in this article were accurate as of Feb. 13, 2013.
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