"The Fast Break" is a weekly NBA notebook column that features interviews, insight, international news and more. New every Thursday on NBA.com/fastbreak.

New York, N.Y. – There’s no denying the surprise many NBA fans have felt seeing the New York Knicks among the Eastern Conference’s top teams this season. It’s not that the Knicks lacked potential, but after missing the playoffs the last six years, these fans are accustomed to mid-April basketball without them.

Basketball in the Big Apple, however, is back.

The 42-40 Knicks will take on the Boston Celtics in the first round of the East playoffs beginning on Sunday, April 17. New York’s last postseason appearance came in 2003-04, making it the longest drought among the remaining 16 NBA teams in championship contention.

“It’s going to be great,” Knicks All-Star forward Amar’e Stoudemire said. “The fans deserve it. All our hard work, every day out there on the court, to deliver for the fans and bring the playoffs back to New York, mission accomplished.”

It’s impossible to look past Stoudemire as the primary reason the Knicks were able to capture the East’s sixth seed. The 6-foot-10 big man is averaging a team-high 25.3 points and 8.2 rebounds in his first season with the team. Every time Stoudemire steps to the free throw line at The Garden, an “M-V-P” chant can be heard throughout. The three letters are a worthy compliment.

“I was a little emotional because it was such a long year,” said Stoudemire, referring to the playoff-clinching win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 2. “But there was a lot of determination and we wanted to get back to the playoffs.”

"We've been hearing [about having a home playoff game] from our fans all year,” rookie guard Landry Fields said. “To work hard like we did and get to the playoffs is something great that we can give back to the city of New York."

The Knicks’ forte in this third season in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system has been offense. Their 106.5 points per game ranks second behind the Denver Nuggets; however, it comes at the expense of their defense, which is allowing close to that total.

"I want to win,” D’Antoni said. “I want to win whether anybody's watching or not watching. I want each player that we have under our wing to play the best they can play, that would be satisfying. Obviously we want to win a championship."

Stoudemire admitted last week that all of the team’s pieces are finally beginning to gel after the Feb. 22 deal that brought them All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. Although the Knicks have gone 14-14 since the swap, they recently went on a seven-game win streak that was snapped by the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday. This type of momentum could do wonders for the Knicks’ return to the postseason.

“We want to keep our confidence high, especially going into the postseason,” Fields said. “We've got to be ready."

Knicks fans have been ready – and waiting – six years and no longer counting.

Foreign Intelligence


The San Antonio Spurs dropped Tuesday's game to the Los Angeles Lakers, 102-93, with Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Tony Parker (France) and Tim Duncan (U.S. Virgin Islands) on the bench. The threesome is healthy, but coach Gregg Popovich wanted them rested ahead of the playoffs. All returned against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday...Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut (Australia) went under the knife on Tuesday to remove particles and scar tissue from his right elbow. Bogut is expected to be ready for the start of the 2011-12 season...Among the international players who finished the season Top 5 in certain stats categories: Assists - Nash (1st, 11.4), Jose Calderon (5th, 8.9); Field Goal Percentage - Nene (1st, .615), Marcin Gortat (4th, .559), Al Horford (6th, .558); Free Throw Percentage - Nash (3rd, .911); Blocks - Bogut (1st, 2.6), Serge Ibaka (T-2nd, 2.4), Darko Milicic (5th, 2.0); Turnovers - Nash (T-3rd, 3.6)...Cavaliers coach Byron Scott benched Christian Eyenga (Congo) in back-to-back games this week, citing his poor defense...Horford (Dominican Republic) picked up the NBA Cares Community Assists Award for March...Phoenix Suns forward Mickael Pietrus (France) said this week he intends to exercise his $5.3 million player option for next season. Pietrus averaged 7.2 points and 2.2 rebounds in 57 games between the Suns and Orlando Magic in 2010-11...Atlanta Hawks rookie Pape Sy (France) made his NBA debut last Thursday against the Indiana Pacers. His only stat in three minutes of floor time was a steal. The next night against the Washington Wizards, Sy dropped seven points in nine minutes...In that same game against Indiana, Hawks center Zaza Pachuila (Georgia) came off the bench to add 10 points and 11 rebounds in the 114-102 loss...Bulls forward Luol Deng (Great Britain) had his first double-double in over a month. Deng posted 23 points and 10 rebounds in the Bulls' 103-90 win over the Knicks on Tuesday...The Miami Heat are expected to start Zydrunas Illgauskas (Lithuania) in the playoffs...New Jersey Nets center Dan Gadzuric (Netherlands) had a season-high five blocks against the Raptors on Sunday...Celtics reserve guard Carlos Arroyo (Puerto Rico) told reporters this week he intends to play for his country in the FIBA Americas Championship in Mar del Plata...Denver Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov (Russia) has resumed practicing after suffering a left knee strain nearly two weeks ago...Sacramento Kings guard Beno Udrih (Slovenia) had perhaps his most well-rounded game this season with a 21-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday...Another Sacramento member, center Samuel Dalembert (Haiti) won the 2010-11 Oscar Robinson Triple-Double Award. The honor is bestowed upon the Kings member who embodies both high standards on and off the court…Rudy Fernandez (Spain) scored 18 points off the bench on Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies. That was the Portland Trail Blazers guard's highest point total since Feb. 25...The Houston Rockets recalled center Hasheem Thabeet from the NBA D-League on Monday. Thabeet averaged nine points, 7.7 assists and 2.4 blocks in seven games for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers...Semih Erden (Turkey) received his first start since joining the Cavs on April 11. In 19 minutes, he contributed five points.

Fire & Ice


Fire:
Chicago Bulls: Nine straight wins heading into the playoffs. Now that’s momentum. Chicago tips off its playoff run with a first-round matchup against an Indiana Pacers team they’ve beaten three times this season. MVP candidate Derrick Rose averaged 27 points in the four-game series.

Kevin Durant: The NBA’s leading scorer (27.9 ppg) picked up Western Conference Player of the Week honors while leading his team to a 4-0 mark beginning April 5. Among the teams they knocked off during that stretch were the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets, twice. Durant averaged 30 points and 6.9 rebounds over those four. Carmelo Anthony took home East honors.

LeBron James: The reigning MVP jumped over Kobe in the jersey sales department this season. This was the first time James claimed the top spot since 2004, his rookie year in Cleveland. Kobe was No. 2, while Celtics guard Rajon Rondo rounded out the top three.

Ice:
Minnesota Timberwolves: Fifteen straight losses to end the season. The only thing worse than that would be to lose the Draft Lottery, where they’re assured the best odds at landing the No. 1 pick.

Utah Jazz: The Jazz had only eight players active for Wednesday night’s season finale against the Nuggets. C.J. Miles, Andrei Kirilenko, Raja Bell, Kyrylo Fesenko, Mehmet Okur and Ronnie Price were all out with injuries. Despite the absences, Utah won, 107-103, to finish the season 39-43.

Charlie Villanueva: First, the Pistons forward initiated an on-court altercation with Cleveland’s Ryan Hollins. Then, Villanueva tried to get to Hollins on the Cavs bench and in their locker room. That earned him a five-game suspension without pay. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Villanueva, so this clearly appears out of character. Still, the move definitely warrants being iced.

NBA StatsCube Cruncher


-1.3 - Opponents’ point differential in the paint when Lakers center Andrew Bynum is on the floor. Since 2007, teams have scored 39.8 points down low with Bynum in the middle, as opposed to 41.1 with him not. Those numbers are per 48 minutes. Bynum went down on Tuesday after hyperextending his surgically repaired right knee. On Wednesday it was revealed that the injury is just a bone bruise and he won’t be sidelined for the playoffs. As for the opponents’ point differential in the postseason, it’s quite the opposite: +2.7. (StatsCube Index)

Video Peak


Twitter Talk


”I want to go to Augusta National. Lay down on the green at 12 and take a nap. Is there a more scenic place in the world? On my bucket list.” (View)
Shane Battier (@shanebattier) on April 7, ahead of the Masters.

“Congrats to #1 pick Maya Moore. Welcome to Minnesota! Looking forward to big things.” (View)
Kevin Love (@kevinlove) on April 11 welcoming newest Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore to town.

“The Bulls have defeated every team in the NBA this season except for one. Looking at you @thenyknicks…” (View)
The Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) on April 12 before knocking off the Knicks, 103-90.
For the latest NBA updates throughout season, you can follow Scott on Twitter (@ScottStanchak).