The weather has always been a problem in New York. If it’s not Hurricane Sandy, then the basketball winter New York Knicks fans have endured over the last decade has given the city much to fret about. Since losing to the Toronto Raptors 2-3 in the first round of the 2001 Eastern Conference playoffs, the Knicks have experienced the NBA’s postseason on just three occasions while winning just one playoff game (against Miami in 2012) in this period. Correctly so, even the word ‘disappointing’ doesn’t fully express what Knicks fans have felt in this 11-year timeframe that has brought much more gloom than joy to a great basketball city.
But it’s starting to look a lot brighter in the Big Apple now. The Knicks have started the 2012-13 NBA regular season 4-0, which is their best start since the 1993-94 season when they started 7-0 en route to a 57-25 record and the Atlantic Division title. They are currently the NBA’s only unbeaten franchise, having taken down the defending NBA champions Miami Heat, the Philadelphia 76ers (home and away) and the Dallas Mavericks in their opening four games. It’s not much of a start, given that the Washington Capitols (1948-49) and the Houston Rockets (1993-94) went 15-0 to earn the record for the best regular season start in NBA history. But such has been the scale of the Knicks’ failures, that even the slightest positive change in fortunes is cherished for fans fear their basketball apocalypse is never too far away.
Once upon a time…
Founded in 1946, the New York Knicks made it to the playoffs in each of their first 10 seasons, thereby emerging as one of the benchmark franchises in American sports. The next decade between 1956 to 1966 saw them flounder, with the franchise making only one playoff appearance (1959). Then came the glory years as the Knicks, with the legendary Willis Reed, tasted NBA glory in 1970 and 1973. But the success of those times is a distant memory for Knicks fans now. There is a fairytale-like tinge to the mention of their championship days because it happened so long ago.
A lot of promise, but even more disappointment…
Between the mid-1970s and the latter half of the 1980s, the Knicks went through a phase of ups and downs as they fluctuated between playoff wilderness and postseason contention. The arrival of Patrick Ewing (1985), however, transformed the Knicks into serious championship contenders as they made it to 14 straight playoff appearances between 1988 and 2001. But with Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls emerging as the Knicks’ eternal nemesis, New York never lived up to its billing. In the years when Jordan was not around, it was the Houston Rockets (1994), the San Antonio Spurs (1999) and the Indiana Pacers (1998 and 2000) who came between the Knicks and their championship aspirations.
The dark ages
Ewing’s exit from the Knicks in 2000 led to a plummeting of fortunes as New York struggled to build a roster worthy of challenging the best in the league. It was the Knicks’ darkest phase, where they just couldn’t get things right. They hired and fired legendary coaches like Lenny Wilkens and Larry Brown in this period, went through two nightmarish seasons of 23-59 each (2005-06 and 2007-08), and even had a infamous night when their players broke into a brawl with the Denver Nuggets in December 2006.
Return of the good times?
It is in this backdrop that New York’s success deserves to be celebrated. After Jeremy Lin created headlines in the city this past February, the Knicks once again disappointed when they crashed to a 1-4 loss to the Miami Heat in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs. Then with Lin having left for Houston in the offseason, and Amar’e Stoudemire out injured, not many expected the Knicks to begin the way they have this season.
More so than the undefeated start, tt’s the manner of New York’s wins, which has left everyone impressed. Playing without Stoudemire, the Knicks are averaging 104.50 PPG, which is the second highest in the league. However, it is their defensive effort, which has left the Knicks’ critics tongue-tied. They are allowing their opponents only 87.50 PPG, the fewest by any team in the league. The margin of their wins against their opponents is a whopping 17 points, also best in the league. They lead the league in steals at 10.25 per game and also have the best 3-point shooting percentage (43.6%). Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, not known for their defensive abilities, have been seen hustling opponents on this front while Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton have dished out the extra pass to lay the foundation for an unselfish ethic in the Knicks’ playing style. Additionally, Tyson Chandler has stood like a rock at the heart of the Knicks’ defense, vindicating his 2012 Defensive Player of the Year award. Furthermore, the Knicks, like the Los Angeles Clippers, the San Antonio Spurs and the Boston Celtics, have a deep roster, with the likes of Smith, Rasheed Wallace, Steve Novak and Pablo Prigioni coming off the bench.
Clearly, coach Mike Woodson must be feted for the impressive start. Having taken over the franchise when Mike D’Antoni quit midway through the 2011-12 season, Woodson has been 22-6 with the Knicks in regular season games since then. New York’s improved defense and willingness to share the ball can clearly be credited to him as the Knicks have readily bought into his system. The challenge, however, for Woodson will be how he assimilates Stoudemire into New York’s plans once the All-Star returns from injury.
Before their opening regular season game against the Heat, Carmelo said to the many who had gathered at Madison Square Garden in reference to Hurricane Sandy, “This is the most important time for the city of New York to come together as one and help rebuild the city back up.”
It appears the Knicks are living up to Carmelo’s words and more!
All stats are up to games played on November 13, 2012.