How New York Knicks Finally Transformed Themselves into Real Contender

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistApril 14, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 11: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks watches the action against the Chicago Bulls from the bench at the United Center on April 11, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The New York Knicks beat the Indiana Pacers 90-80 in order to clinch the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and run their record to 15-1 in their past 16 games.

While the Pacers succeeded in their effort to slow the game down to a snail's pace and drag out every possession as long as possible, the Knicks were able to match them crawl for crawl and eventually ended up beating them at their own game.

Both teams shot poorly, but the Knicks were able to pull through and make a few extra three-pointers, played a terrific perimeter defense game and even got a solid effort on the defensive end from Steve Novak, which is nearly unheard of.

After struggling through much of February and a big hunk of March, the Knicks have returned to their early-season form and then some.

In the last 15 games, New York is averaging nearly 106 points per game, shooting 49 percent from the field and a ridiculous 41.3 percent from the three-point line. The biggest weapon they have on hand is not their ability to get hot—it's their unwillingness to cool off.

Meanwhile, they've been giving up just 94.1 points while holding opponents to a respectable 46 percent from the field.

Compare those 15 games to a 7-11 stretch from February 6th to March 17th, and you see a very different team.

Those Knicks averaged just over 93 points in that stretch while shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 32.2 from the three-point line while giving up 98 points per.

The biggest problem, then, was that they were dealing with various injuries (and still are), with Carmelo Anthony far from being completely healthy.

In a way, the Knicks have put themselves together in quite the same way that the 2011 Dallas Mavericks were built.

Just looking at the way each team played, Dallas put together a streak of 17 wins in 18 games and 19 wins in 20 games sandwiched between a 3-10 stretch. Both showed tremendous strengths and tremendous weaknesses but also the ability to get hot enough to run any opponent out of the building.

Looking at their makeup, they also have tremendous similarities in their rosters.

There's the obvious comparison with a point guard-center combination that doesn't dominate the ball with Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler. Both Kidd and Chandler were a part of the 2011 Mavericks with similar teammates around them.

Carmelo Anthony is playing the obvious Dirk Nowitzki role here as a big, strong player who can pound in down low, play with some finesse around the basket and shoot from anywhere on the court. They're both constant threats to score and always in a situation to go off for 30, 40 or even 50 points.

What's really impressive about the way the team is built is the guys surrounding those three. 

J.R. Smith has drawn the Jason Terry role, Iman Shumpert is the capable perimeter defender that DeShawn Stevenson was, while Raymond Felton and J.J. Barea have proven to be equally frustrating and capable as far as shooting and getting to the rim go.

The only thing in question now is how much their additional depth—the likes of Chris Copeland, Pablo Prigioni and Steve Novak—can add to their ability to go deep into the playoffs, and specifically, how they can compete with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

What's most impressive about the way the Knicks are built, regardless of the fact that they're comprised of a bunch of old dudes, is that they took into account much of what it took to beat the Heat while taking a few tips from the enemy in the process.

Obviously, one of the biggest advantages that Dallas had over Miami in 2011 was Tyson Chandler in the middle, but Dallas didn't have much in terms of post defense beyond Chandler.

Signing him to a big contract—and then moving to add cheap yet intelligent older players in the process—was a terrific move. The Knicks took Chandler from Dallas and then took the idea that an expensive battalion of post players is overrated from Miami.

New York is more interested in developing multiple lineups that can take advantage of various opponents' weaknesses along the way.

They have the ability to put in a plethora of shooters, perimeter slashers, a small lineup, a big lineup or just one that centers around Anthony going into isolation and tearing defenders apart.

The Knicks remain far from a perfect team, but given their second-place stance in the East, their 3-1 record against Miami this season and their ability to heat up like a microwave and stay hot like a convection oven is going to make them extremely dangerous when the playoffs start.

In other words, they've become a contender.