I may be one of the few avid sports fans in America that resented the presence of the BCS National Championship Game on my TV Channel Guide last night.
Not because I am one of those annoying football fans that can't seem to accept the fact that the bowl system will never loosen its grip on the NCAA (get over it already, there will never be a playoff system!), but because it meant that only one NBA game would be played and it was an unappealing matchup between two sub .500 teams.
But, I still sat down after a rough and trying day, with beer in hand, ready to withstand the agony of watching the Bobcats take on the Knicks in a matchup that pitted two teams battling for an Eastern Conference basement playoff spot. Whoo Hoo.
But to my surprise, from the opening few moments of the game, I was incredibly entertained, and by the time the final buzzer sounded, I was actually quite impressed by the exciting play of this left-for-dead Knicks team.
My exposure to the Knicks, like most NBA fans out west, has been limited to seeing them play in a few games every year, and the often misleading information passed along by mainstream media outlets.
Based on this alone, I thought the Knicks were a team in disarray, struggling through a season marred by unexplained DNPs of their star players, poor coaching decisions by Mike D'Antoni, defensive vacuums, and chronic underachievement.
And when they jumped out to a franchise worst 1-9 start, I have to admit that I lost most of my interest in the Knicks as a relevant NBA team.
But, when I'm wrong, I like to admit the error of my ways, although my wife might contend with that statement. Nonetheless, when it comes to the New York Knicks' status as a legitimate Eastern Conference Team, brace yourself everyone, I was wrong.
The Knicks have all the ingredients to be a very competitive team in the East, and appear to finally be putting all the pieces together.
Chris Duhon has quietly become a viable point guard, an expectation that he has only partially fulfilled since coming over from the Bulls as a promising piece to the Knicks future. Since the beginning of December, Duhon has averaged 11.55 points and about 6.6 assists per contest. But, from watching his game against the Bobcats, it seems like his value should be evaluated based on his efficiency rather than his ability to create excitement.
Wilson Chandler had what appeared to be his best game of the season (27 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists), and from all indications seems to be regaining the strength in the ankle he has been struggling with since he had surgery on it over the summer.
David Lee has "just another day at the office" mentality and has put together an All-Star caliber season (18.8 ppg and 11 rpg). Against the Bobcats on Thursday, Lee had 22 points, seven rebounds, and five assists, and was again instrumental in the Knicks success in the paint.
Danilo Gallinari seems like the ideal D'Antoni "Euro-style" player. He added 17 pivotal points, seemingly none of which came from under 30 feet from the basket. His two three pointers in the final two minutes put the game on ice for the Knicks, and crushed the hopes of the Bobcats.
Jared Jeffries has emerged as an interestingly good fit for this Knicks team. He doesn't add any value on the offensive end, beyond occupying an opposing big man, but his presence on the defensive end was definitely felt. It almost seems as if he has been assigned a "roamer" role, whose sole purpose is to play outstanding off-the-ball defense, and gobble up rebounds.
The Knicks were thin in their rotation, but Nate Robinson appears to once again be in D'Antoni's good graces, and he had a huge impact in the fourth quarter. Jonathon Bender was an interesting midseason acquisition, but even he seemed to understand his role on this team and played within the flow of the game very well.
Missing in action were Larry Hughes, who is currently engaged in a battle of his own with D'Antoni to be removed from the chronic DNP list, and Al Harrington, who was a late scratch due to a strained calf.
Al Harrington has the ability to light up the scoreboard on any given night, and has had an excellent season, averaging 18.4 ppg, six rpg, and nearly three apg. Knicks fans might like it better if he didn't seem to have an actual physical allergy to passing the ball, but his return will likely be a welcomed sight nonetheless.
In an Eastern Conference that is very top-heavy, with a 4.5 game drop off between the current fourth and fifth seeds, the Knicks certainly appear to have the capability and drive to elevate themselves to a five or six seed when all is said and done.
While not yet a true contender, the recent success should have Knicks fans giddy. With every notch in the win column, New York City becomes a more attractive destination for a certain free-agent, whose identity shall remain unknown.
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