Madison Square Garden's ongoing, multi-year renovation mirrors the current rebirth of the NBA team it houses. The Garden resides in a state of flux, with sleek black seats in the lower bowls and the ugly teal eyesores in the upper bowls. Entrances to the Garden—specifically in the ticket areas—make the location virtually unrecognizable from previous years with shiny white floors and a general cleanliness unseen as recently as the spring. Advance up one level, however, and you'll find the unfinished concession stands that only offer beer, hot dogs and popcorn.
Likewise, the Knicks reside in a state of transition that will take a few years to complete. Some new pieces (Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire) are cemented in place for a potential championship run, but the NBA Finals will only act as a pipe dream unless the team gets a few more pieces and starts playing defense (not even good defense, as any consistently-played defense will do).
Still, reason exists to have more optimism about this season since the late 1990s. Take out your smart phone and mark these 10 games on your calendar right away.
The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks open the 2011-12 NBA season with a Christmas Day tilt at the Garden. No doubt the Knicks want to stop an eight-game losing streak that includes both regular-season and postseason sweeps last year.
Via an untrained eye, it may seem like the Knicks will be slight underdogs, but with both teams shaking off that prolonged offseason rust, anything can happen.
Plus, if the 1985-86 Celtics (67-15, World Champions) can blow a 25-point lead at the Garden against the 1985-86 Knicks (23-59, Champions of Nothing) on Christmas Day, why can't the Blue and Orange start the season with a victory?
The Knicks get the short end of the stick with an early three-game trip to the West Coast. Following a game against former Knicks point guard Mark Jackson's Golden State Warriors, New York plays on national television against Kobe Bryant and...who knows?
The Lakers we knew last season may be drastically different than the Lakers we'll know this season, so this game acts as an intriguing question mark early in the campaign.
One slight advantage for New York: The Lakers will be playing their fourth game in five nights.
The lasting image of Kevin Durant that Knicks fans were left with was him rising and firing over Danilo Gallinari for a game-winning, buzzer-beating three-pointer down in OKC.
The Knicks who played in that game only have once chance at regular-season revenge, as the Thunder will not be making a trek up north this season.
As the days wind down to Christmas, the Thunder will most likely be the favorite to emerge as the Western Conference champion—barring Tyson Chandler re-signing with the Mavericks or the Lakers getting Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Therefore, expect the Knicks to be licking their chops at trying to take down the trendy pick.
When is the Knicks' Martin Luther King Day game not a must-see event? Even if the Knicks were something like 12-24 going into this game and playing another sub-mediocre team in the past, this has turned into one of New York basketball's best traditions.
This year's game is no exception, but the better question is whether Dwight Howard will still be a member of the Orlando Magic at this time.
Most Knicks fans will tell you that the game of the year last season was the Knicks' 91-86 win at Miami on the night of the Academy Awards. Down 15, the Knicks engineered a ferocious second-quarter rally to take the lead. Late in the game, Chauncey Billups made clutch plays on offense and defense, while Amar'e Stoudemire acted as Mariano Rivera with a late block that closed the deal.
Some might be surprised to know the Knicks split the season series with the Heat (one win each for the pre-Carmelo and post-Carmelo teams). This time around, there will be a winner in the regular-season series, as the Knicks and Heat play three nationally-televised games.
Provided Dwight Howard finds his way to Los Angeles before the end of this season, your top four Eastern Conference teams should be the Bulls, Heat, Celtics and Knicks in some order. The Hawks will knock on the top-four door, but expect the Nets and Pacers to find their way into top seven seeds.
If Deron Williams stays healthy, Nene finds his way to New Jersey, Travis Outlaw gets the axe and another swingman or two come aboard, the Nets could be pretty good. The Knicks should take note in their first meeting with the cross-river rivals, since they will be playing the Nets on the wrong end of a back-to-back-to-back set in the midst of playing seven games in 10 days.
When is a date with the defending champions not a must-see game?
(OK, aside from the 1999 season, when not even Knicks fans cared about a game with the Tim Floyd-led Bulls.)
Even if the Mavs lose some key players, they should still return to the playoffs and contend for a title as long as Dirk Nowitzki is making 18-foot jumpers on one leg. Plus, this matchup is on ABC, and those games always seem to carry an extra level of importance in the black hole of the American sports calendar that is mid-to-late February.
The Pacers ended last season as well as any team can end a season in a five-game series loss in the first round of the playoffs, if that makes any sense. They overachieved and gave the No. 1 seed Bulls a serious run for their money.
This year, expect Indiana to improve even further and play some slobber knockers against the Knicks that may even conjure up memories of Reggie Miller at the Garden.
The Pacers and Knicks played two great games last season. Danny Granger continued a Knicks swoon when he nailed a game-winning shot for a 109-107 victory, but one month later, Carmelo Anthony exacted revenge with a game-winning shot followed by a game-clinching block for the 110-109 win.
Easter Sunday usually signifies the last week of the NBA season, but the Knicks will have 10 more games to play after hosting Derrick Rose and the Bulls.
This is the beginning of a home-and-home series with Chicago, which comes at a brutal time for both teams as they will be positioning themselves for better playoff seeding as the season nears its end.
Provided Chauncey Billups is still healthy and Mike Woodson's new role as the Knicks' defensive coordinator leads to competence on that end of the court, we could even be seeing two of the top three Eastern Conference teams doing battle.
The Lakers will suddenly become the second-biggest basketball attraction in Los Angeles.
The thought is frightening, but even if Chris Paul doesn't become a Clipper, this game is a must-see for Blake Griffin alone. He doesn't have Timofey Mozgov to pick on in New York anymore, but one can argue that Griffin reigns as the most exciting player to watch today.
Therefore, if the Knicks are still fighting for a better playoff seed, expect the scalpers to be out in full force between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.