New York has waited nearly a decade for this.
After a seven year hiatus, the Knicks are back.
Back in the playoffs that is.
New York may have regained some of its swagger over this season, but the question of whether they are truly back has yet to be answered.
But this is no time to dwell on such an issue. This is a time to bask in the reality that Madison Square Garden will once again be host to at least two games of postseason basketball.
However, while this may be a time to enjoy what New York has waited so long for, it is certainly no time to lose focus.
The goal all along has been for the Knicks to make the playoffs, but just because they have met or possibly exceeded expectations, doesn't mean they aren't hungry for more.
New York is pleased about clinching a playoff berth, but the Knicks are far from fully satisfied. The entire organization, despite season long troubles, has high hopes for the playoffs.
And why shouldn't they?
It may not have always been pretty, but the Knicks have proved on multiple occasions that they can hang with the Eastern Conference's elite. This means that a playoff run is not out of the question.
Many fans and critics may have already counted these Knicks out, but others, like myself, have not.
New York has the potential to be an extremely dangerous team in the playoffs and should not be overlooked by any means.
And here are the top 10 reasons why.
New York's defense actually makes them a team that should be taken seriously this postseason.
And no, I'm not kidding.
Call me an optimist, but the Knicks' defense cannot get any worse at this point. There is only room for improvement.
New York is going to enter the playoffs with a ton of unanswered defensive questions and whole lot to prove. A team with something to prove and a chip on their shoulder is a dangerous one, and the Knicks are no exception.
Carmelo Anthony and company have shown a slight improvement defensively while on their current seven game winning streak.
Sunday night's game against the Indiana Pacers provided a look into the type of defensive team the Knicks can and need to be in order to make some noise in the playoffs.
New York's offense struggled down the stretch, but their defense kept them in the game and put them in position to win it in the final seconds.
Shawne Williams came up with a big steal that led to an easy two for Landry Fields, which brought the Knicks within one. This was followed by a big defensive stop that allowed Anthony to hit the game winning field goal with just under five seconds remaining.
However, the most notable play of the night came when Anthony, just after hitting the shot that put the Knicks up by one, had a game saving block on Indiana's Danny Granger.
The block by Anthony was the cherry on top of the Knicks already strong defensive performance down the stretch. He showed us the type of defender that he has the potential to be, and exhibited the type of clutch defense New York has the ability to play.
Yes, it is only one game, but it still speaks volumes, especially for Anthony who has improved his defense a great deal over the winning streak. He is moving his feet and challenging shots more often, and showing the league he is not a defensive pushover.
The rest of the team is playing stronger defense as well, including Amar'e Stoudemire. Strong defensive effort is contagious, and the rest of the team sees their two stars working hard on that end of the ball and it provides them with motivation to improve defensively themselves.
New York is far from being a defensive juggernaut, but they are at least beginning to play average to better than average defense.
While some may sneer at this reasoning, I feel that the Knicks' season long defensive woes actually make them a dangerous playoff team.
They have nowhere to go but up. And as they showed Sunday night, they have the ability to win the game with their defense.
And this, coupled with their already explosive offense, makes the Knicks an extremely lethal postseason team.
With its victory over Indiana Sunday night, New York clinched its first winning record since the 2000-2001 season.
This is huge for the Knicks heading into the playoffs. They can take solace in knowing that they finished the season on a strong note.
New York has two very tough games remaining against the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics, but even if the Knicks lose both of those games, they close the season out by winning seven of their last ten.
But while it would be nice to see the Knicks win one or both of their last two games, it is not a necessity. Coach Mike D'Antoni may not have his starters play big time minutes in those games in order to rest them for the playoffs. While this is not an excuse, it is a reason for fans to not overreact should New York suffer two straight losses.
No, the rest of the season is about looking at the big picture.
The Knicks finally seem as if they have developed some chemistry, and they have done so just in time. New York no longer looks like a team searching for their identity, rather they seem like a team who is ready to become a member of the elite.
New York's strong finish is simply huge as they enter the post season. They have momentum on their side and are ready to compete with whomever they meet in the first round.
We all knew that it was imperative for the Knicks to establish an identity and finish strong before the playoffs.
Evidently, the Knicks themselves knew too because they have done just that.
While New York is far from becoming a defensive juggernaut, they are certainly a dominant team offensively.
The Knicks are second in the league, coincidentally behind only the Denver Nuggets, in points scored per game with nearly 107 a night.
New York's only offensive issue is that they tend to suffer long scoring droughts down the stretch. This being said, the Knicks almost always show up offensively for their games.
Furthermore, New York has two of the top five league leading scorers on their team in Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. This will prove to be huge in the postseason because the Knicks have two proven scorers who can hit big shots to close out games.
And we cannot forget "Mr. Big Shot" himself. Chauncey Billups is yet another big time player who provides the Knicks with another offensive weapon who can come through in the clutch.
Additionally, sans major internal offensive meltdowns, the rest of the league has found it near impossible to stop the Knicks offense this season.
Mike D'Antoni's seven seconds or less system poses major problems for opposing defenses, and now that Anthony and Billups both seem acclimated to said system, the rest of the Eastern Conference playoff teams have their hands full.
Do the Knicks rely too much on their offense at times?
Certainly. And while this is not a license to slack off defensively, the Knicks have the ability to put such a burden on their offense because it is so effective.
Defense is of the utmost importance for the Knicks, especially come playoff time. But they have and will continue to be an extremely dangerous offensive team.
And this translates into a team that the opposition must take seriously heading into the playoffs.
Chauncey Billups was considered a throw-in to the Carmelo Anthony trade, but he has proved he is anything but.
Billups has brought invaluable veteran experience to this Knicks roster. He knows what it feels like and what it takes to win a championship, and he has enough playoff experience for the entire New York roster.
Since joining the Knicks, Billups has averaged nearly 18 points, over five assists and one steal per game. He has been everything and more than what was originally expected of him.
Raymond Felton was definitely a huge loss for the Knicks, but Billups has more than filled the void.
He is proven a floor general that directs the offense with ease and he is a big time scorer who is not afraid to take the pressure shot.
What is most impressive though is that Billups has almost effortlessly transitioned into Mike D'Antoni's seven seconds or less offensive system.
Unlike Anthony, Billups has not struggled all that much in getting acclimated to the Knicks' style of play. Even though D'Antoni exempted him from the seven seconds or less system, he has remained committed to learning how to play in it.
And he is doing a great job of doing so.
As previously mentioned though, Billups' greatest attribute is his playoff experience. He knows what it is like and what it takes to play and win under that type of pressure. This is something that you cannot put a price on.
Billups may be aging and on the downside of his NBA career, but he has plenty of great play left in him. He has and will continue to make a significant impact on this team.
As New York prepares to enter the playoffs, they will come to fully realize the benefits of having Billups direct the offense early on. He is not going to buckle under the pressure and he is going to come through down the stretch time and time again.
If Billups is able to stay healthy, he may be just the push the Knicks need to get past the first round and beyond.
Just like the Knicks are a team many are overlooking as the playoffs draw nearer, Billups is a player that often goes unnoticed.
The fact of the matter is that Billups is a proven winner.
And all indications are that he has what it takes to make the Knicks one too.
Amar'e Stoudemire has simply been amazing for New York the entire season.
He is fifth in the league in scoring with 25.4 points per game and he adds over eight rebounds and nearly two blocks to his nightly point total.
Stoudemire has also alleviated any major health concerns for this season. He has played in all but three of the Knicks regular season games and only sat the last two because the Knicks clinched a playoff berth and the organization thought it better to be safe than sorry.
Also noteworthy is the swagger that Stoudemire has brought to this New York team.
Before Carmelo Anthony joined the roster, Stoudemire carried this team. He provided the Knicks with some much needed energy on offense and defense, and was an MVP candidate early on in the season.
All season long Stoudemire has wreaked havoc for opposing defenses, and he has improved his defensive play substantially, proving to be a force to be reckoned with on that end of the ball.
He gives the Knicks 37 quality minutes every game and is always playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Come playoff time, Stoudemire is only going to prove further why he was brought to New York. He is a proven scorer who has playoff experience and can handle the pressures of the postseason.
Most importantly though, Stoudemire is the true leader of this New York team. He is not afraid to call his teammates out and motivate them to play harder, and on numerous occasions, he has placed the responsibility of the team's failure solely on him.
Stoudemire continues to put the full weight of the Knicks on his shoulders, even with Anthony in the fold.
And this is exactly what a leader does.
It was his team before Anthony arrived and it remains his team now.
This past summer, Stoudemire proclaimed to New York and the rest of the basketball world that the Knicks were back.
As we head into the postseason, Stoudemire is poised to show that he was serious.
Carmelo Anthony came to the Knicks not even two months ago.
His arrival was marked by an array of controversy and criticism to say the least. It was anything but a smooth transition.
After getting off to a rocky start though, Anthony seems to have found his place in New York's system.
He is fourth in the league in scoring with 25.5 points per game and grabs nearly eight rebounds a night.
Anthony makes the Knicks a dangerous playoff team for a number of reasons. He is a proven scorer and game closer, and now that he has finally embraced his role in Mike D'Antoni's seven seconds or less system, he is as dangerous on the offensive end as ever.
Since joining the Knicks Anthony has also improved his three-point shooting a great deal. He is shooting over 43 percent from beyond the arc, which is more than 11 percentage points above his career average.
Adding the three-point shot to his arsenal makes him unstoppable on the offensive end and increases New York's overall offensive performance.
In addition to improving his three-point shooting, Anthony is also moving the ball around a lot better. When he first came to New York, Anthony would try to take his man one on one every single time, which slowed down the offense a great deal.
Simply put, he was trying to do too much.
Now, however, Anthony is making quick and smart decisions whenever he touches the ball. He either shoots, drives the lane, or if neither of those options are there, he passes the rock immediately. This has allowed the Knicks' offense to flow a lot smoother and become more effective overall.
As if this weren't enough, Anthony has also begun to improve defensively over the past few games.
He is no longer playing defense with only his hands, rather he has begun to move his feet and keep his man in front of him. As a result, Anthony is able to contest more shots and get more blocks.
Anthony's improved defense was clearly evident in New York's Sunday night victory over Indiana when he had a game saving block against the Pacers' Danny Granger. This came just after Anthony hit the go ahead field goal with just under five seconds remaining.
Yes, Anthony is beginning to show that he can do it all on the basketball court, and he will be an integral part of any playoff success the Knicks experience.
He is striving to show to New York and the rest of the NBA that he was worth everything that the Knicks gave up for him. He has much to prove and he is ready to rise to the occasion.
This, coupled with his natural offensive ability and recently improved defensive play, makes both him and the Knicks a force to be reckoned with come playoff time.
Entering the season, Shawne Williams' most notable accomplishment was expected to be beating out Patrick Ewing Jr. for New York's final roster spot.
This has been anything but the case.
Williams has gone from a mere afterthought to an everyday player and occasional starter. He has been magnificent for the Knicks.
He is only averaging seven points per game, but he has the potential to go on scoring binges. And at nearly 42 percent from beyond the arc, he is as lethal of a three-point shooter as there is.
Additionally, what often goes overlooked is that Williams is an above average defender on a defensively challenged team. He keeps his man in front of him and is always contesting shots.
At 6'9", he also adds much needed height and rebounding ability, especially on the offensive end. He is always battling for lose balls and fighting for tough rebounds.
Williams brings an infinite amount of hustle to the Knicks game and his success has been simply amazing.
Many may wonder why he is higher on this list than all the members of New York's big three, but it is really not that big of a mystery.
In the case of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups, the type of play they bring to the table is expected. Williams on the other hand has been a pleasant surprise and we all know that stars need role players to win.
When the Knicks gutted their roster to obtain Carmelo Anthony, Williams' role on the team became even more important. He plays more minutes and gets more touches.
And he has risen to the occasion.
Williams has become more aggressive on the offensive end and has showed he can take the ball to the rim and draw the foul. And should a team leave him open from beyond the arc in either of the corners, it will be lights out.
It is essential that Williams continue his strong play because the Knicks need depth on their roster. They need players who can pick up the scoring slack when any member of the big three heads to the bench and someone with mental toughness.
Williams has shown that he is just the guy for the job. He is relatively unknown and teams often overlook him with both Stoudemire and Anthony on the same team, which makes him even more lethal.
As New York heads into the playoffs, it is becoming clearer that Williams is an integral part of the Knicks recent success.
He is one of the more underrated players in this league and should he continue his strong play in the postseason, he will give both himself and the Knicks the recognition they deserve.
At the beginning of the season, there were a lot of question marks surrounding Toney Douglas.
Many doubted that he was a capable point guard in this league and expectations were not high.
However, Mike D'Antoni saw the potential in Douglas and kept pushing him.
And it seems that Douglas has finally arrived.
He is averaging 10.5 points, three rebounds, three assists and one steal per game. And as of late, he has been as big an offensive threat as Amar'e Stoudemire or Carmelo Anthony.
Douglas averages only about one turnover per game, which is astounding given how much he handles the ball and drives the lane. He is also shooting over 38 percent from three-point range and has improved his court vision tremendously.
All this has added up to Douglas becoming a legitimate NBA point guard. He is now directing the offense effectively and establishing himself as a floor general.
Additionally, Douglas is one of the better defensive point guards in the league. His quickness and ability to make sharp lateral movements makes him extremely effective on that end of the ball. And on an offensive minded team like the Knicks, his defensive prowess is refreshing.
Douglas' recent play will make the Knicks extremely dangerous come playoff time.
When Billups leaves the floor, the Knicks can turn to Douglas and know he will fill perform adequately. New York knows that they will not miss a step with Douglas on the floor.
And although Douglas is new to playoff basketball, all indications are that he will continue to break down opposing defenses and find a way to either score or hit the open man.
This is bad news for whomever plays the Knicks in the first round.
It is time to move on from the player aspect of what makes the Knicks so dangerous.
While this slide could have been dedicated to Landry Fields or Ronny Turiaf or another member of the Knicks team, we must not forget the unofficial sixth man of New York: The Fans.
Every player will be a big part of any success the Knicks have in the playoffs, but so will the fans.
New York fans are the best of the best and show dedication like no other fan base. And after a seven year absence from postseason basketball, you can bet that they are ready to explode.
The Knicks will not have home court advantage heading into the playoffs, but when they do have the opportunity to play at the Garden, they will be greeted by an absolute mind blowing string of cheers.
And the opposition will have a tough time tuning out the New York fans as well as ignoring the pure energy and fire they will exhibit.
What is also noteworthy about Knicks fans is that they are everywhere. Should the Knicks meet the Heat in the first round, they will have their fair share of fans in the stands when playing in Miami. It will be the same case against Boston, although not as significant.
Yes, the Knicks won't be on their home court, but they will have a taste of home no matter where they play.
Madison Square Garden and the Knicks boast the following slogan: You. Us. We. Now.
And it holds credibility.
New York fans are truly members of the team. This is why when they describe a loss or a win you hear them say "When we won" or "I cannot believe we lost," and it is a beautiful thing.
Also, we cannot forget Spike Lee. One has to imagine that he will be at every playoff game and follow the Knicks every step of the way on their postseason journey.
Come next week, the Knicks players will be on the court battling their way through the playoffs as best they can.
And the fans will be in the stands, providing the intangible motivation and energy that just may prove to be enough of a difference maker to push the Knicks deeper into the playoffs than anyone could imagine.
Remember the Knicks of 1999?
They were the ones who barely made it into the playoffs with a 27-23 record in the lockout shortened season.
And there is no reason why the current Knicks cannot make a similar run.
New York will head into the playoffs this year the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference under similar circumstances as the 1999 New York Knicks.
Not many people expect the Knicks to make much noise in the postseason and this is the very reason why a New York playoff push like that in 1999 is possible.
The Knicks thrive off being the underdogs and having something to prove. Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire know that while they may be superstars, they still need to prove they can carry their team deep in the playoffs.
All season long, the Knicks have maintained that they believe they can compete with anyone in the league and that their record does not reflect the team they truly are.
Here is their chance to prove it.
New York scraped its way into the playoffs and most expect them to suffer a first round exit.
And this is what makes them so dangerous.
As it was in 1999, the stage is now set for the Knicks to shock and awe in the most emphatic of fashions.
So, as these Knicks prepare for the 2011 playoffs, they should look to Houston and the 1999 Knicks for inspiration.
This was the year Houston hit a game winning shot with 0.8 seconds left to send the first seeded Miami Heat home in the first round.
It was the year they lost Patrick Ewing to injury prior to game three of the Eastern Conference finals and refused to back down.
It was the year Johnson converted an improbable four point play that helped push the Knicks into the NBA Finals.
It was the year that the Knicks and their fans will never forget.
And this could be the year that it happens all over again.