Don't hesitate to believe in the New York Knicks, but take their recent success and stretch of dominance with a dash of skepticism.
Convincing victories over the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder are sweet. Carmelo Anthony's recent scoring tear is sweeter. And riding the longest winning streak in the NBA (13 games) to the team's first Atlantic Division title since 1994 comes with the aroma of a candy store. But these Knicks still have more to prove.
New York has proved that it is a (regular-season) contender, and that orange and blue are colors to be taken seriously. What the Knicks haven't done is escaped the manacles of doubt.
They could win out the rest of the season, and few (especially outside of New York) would be persuaded into believing they're a viable contender.
With the Knicks, it's nearly impossible not to sound hypocritical. I fancy them legitimate title threats, but I also understand that there's much more to the playoffs than 50-plus wins during the regular season. The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder know this all too well.
Still, how are we supposed to ignore what the Knicks have done as of late?
Quite simply, we're not. We can't. It's too damn incredible.
Over their 13-game win streak, the Knicks are averaging 105.8 points per game (second) on 50.8 percent shooting from the floor (first) and 42.5 percent from deep (second). They're allowing 92.8 points per game (fourth) and winning by an average of 13 points a night (first).
All, or rather most, of this coincides with one the best offensive stretches of Carmelo's career. Not only is he averaging 40.6 points on 58.6 percent shooting in the month of April, but he's scored 30 or more points and shot better than 50 percent from the field for five consecutive games for the first time in his career. He's actually just the fifth player since 1998 to lay claim to such a feat.
Then there's J.R. Smith. He's averaged 23.2 points on 49.3 percent shooting during the streak and leads all of the league's reserves with (a career high) 17.3 points per game on the season.
Everything about the Knicks, the oldest team in NBA history, is seemingly defying what we know. Nearly sweeping the season series against the Heat, traveling to Oklahoma City and beating the Thunder, all the while shorthanded, wasn't something anyone foresaw. And if they tell you otherwise, they're lying.
Some may have thought the Knicks would win their division (I did) and some could have even seen them destined for a top-two or three finish in the Eastern Conference (I did). But did anyone see them beating teams like the Thunder, Spurs and Heat void of a healthy front line? I sure as hell didn't. Why would I? Why would any of us? It goes against common sense. Old, decrepit and depleted factions have no business contending.
But the Knicks are. They're right there, leaving us to ask: What does this all mean?
The answer is everything...to the regular season. For the playoffs, this means almost nothing.
New York still hasn't won a title in 40 years, 'Melo has still only made it out of the first round once in nine tries and the Knicks are still banged up. Really banged up.
We (myself included) like to look at these current Knicks and see unrelenting resilience. And we should. They've used 20 different starting lineups this year and are presently the second-best team in the east. Last year, they used 19 and finished seventh. The significance of their present adaptability cannot go overlooked.
The regular season isn't everything, though. Just ask LeBron James and the rest of the Heat. They would sooner sleep through most of it and set their alarms for April if they could.
Postseason basketball is an entirely different brand of competition. The playoffs are an entirely different culture. They're about matchups. About consistency. About knowing who they are. Which the Knicks don't.
'Melo and friends were the healthiest this convocation has ever been in Oklahoma City. And that's saying something, because Amar'e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin, Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby were all noticeably absent. Now we can add Tyson Chandler to that list (again). That's not going to bode well against the Heat or Indiana Pacers over a seven-game series.
Naturally, we'd like to think that won't be an issue, but every time the Knicks are a semblance of healthy, a knee bends, a neck twitches or a back breaks. Allowing Steve Novak, Chris Copeland and 'Melo to star at center will float against the Washington Wizards, but not in the playoffs. And especially not in the later rounds of the playoffs.
That's all assuming the Knicks get past the first round, though. They don't look like a team that will sputter that early this year, but potential first-round opponents include the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls.
Mike Woodson's soldiers are 3-1 against the Celtics this season, but Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are the ultimate competitors (when healthy). Boston has the potential to go on these runs that span more than one series, even without Rajon Rondo.
And the Bulls? Jesus. They're perhaps the most physical team in the league, and the Knicks have lost to them three times this year. On the off-chance Derrick Rose makes his return in time for a postseason bout, there won't be many ready to make any definitive predictions on where the Knicks are headed.
For argument's sake, let's say they make it past the first round. How would they do against the Pacers (or another team)? Come the Eastern Conference Finals, could they then unseat Miami?
We look to winning 3-of-4 against South Beach's finest as a wholehearted "yes," but again, we're not talking about the regular season. And even if we were, these Knicks are the same ones that were 20-21 in their previous 41 games before the winning streak.
How far will the Knicks go in the playoffs?
Nothing beyond their last five games is guaranteed. Shorthanded excellence and awe-inspiring victories are now a regular-season staple (and even that's a stretch), but that momentum could prove fleeting.
Who's to say they don't to continue to win at an alarming rate, though? Who's to say they don't take down the Heat, and come out of the east?
No one. They're a legitimate threat. But will they? That remains to be seen.
We know a lot about these Knicks. More than some would care to admit. But we don't know everything. That's what the playoffs are for. There lies the final burden of proof.
There we will find out who these Knicks really are.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.