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Fun, enjoyment finally returns for red-hot New York Knicks

Lang Whitaker

Thus far this season, whenever a Knicks player makes a 3-point shot, the players on the Knicks bench break out what they are apparently calling a #ThreeScope.

In practice, the #ThreeScope is a way for the reserves to commemorate a made three from a teammate, by pantomiming as though they are using a telescope. In theory, the #ThreeScope is a way for everyone to get involved and support their teammates. To have fun, as it were.

During Sunday night’s 106-98 win over the Sacramento Kings, the #ThreeScope reached new heights, as reserve Ron Baker collaborated with Maurice N’Dour and at least one other teammate (perhaps Kyle O’Quinn?) to create some kind of super #ThreeScope, as the eternally youthful Mindaugas Kuzminskas smirked from the back and Courtney Lee stood by wearing a Yeezus T-shirt under his claret blazer.

Yes, there’s a lot happening there, but for a simple sideline celebration it’s actually illustrative of something bigger, a rare situation which is mostly unprecedented in the modern NBA: The New York Knicks are having fun.

There hasn’t been much for Knicks fans to celebrate over the last decade or so, but this is, after all, a team with a power forward (Kristaps Porzingis) who Kevin Durant compared to a unicorn and everyone agreed with that comparison, a center (Joakim Noah) who demands to be introduced as hailing from Hell’s Kitchen, and a small forward (Carmelo Anthony) unafraid to hit the convenience store wearing a monogrammed robe.

Why the mirth and merriment? It isn’t just the holiday season: Don’t look now, but the Knicks are red hot. After a 3-6 start to the season, the vultures started circling, but the Knicks are 9-3 in their last 12 games, and have won 8 of their last 9 at home. Their 114-103 win Tuesday night in Miami was their fourth straight, and at 12-9 they’re tied for third in the Eastern Conference.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised. This summer, after Knicks president Phil Jackson acquired 40 percent of the Chicago Bulls’ starting lineup (Derrick Rose and Noah), Rose announced that the Knicks qualified as a super team. And while that statement was mostly retweeted with the “curious” emoji attached, Rose may have been right.

At their best, these Knicks can be dynamic, with potent player combinations available to coach Jeff Hornacek, who seems affable and egoless and solely interested in winning games. Anthony remains one of the NBA’s best scorers (22.5 ppg), and Hornacek frequently uses ‘Melo or Porzingis with the reserves to buy minutes for the other starters while keeping games close. The Knicks are a very good offensive rebounding team (12.2 per game, third in the NBA), although that also means they miss a lot of shots. They may not be very good defensively — their 107.3 defensive rating is 27th in the NBA — they can commit to defense in spurts and seem to have at least won the respect of Knicks fans, which is no small victory.

“I think at the beginning our guys were kind of feeling each other out,” Hornacek said after the win over Miami. “‘Can we win? Are we gonna be a good team or not?’ When you start winning a couple of games, then you start to get that confidence, and you start feeling that you can win games. You don’t get panicked when you get down, you just keep playing. And that’s where I think we’ve grown so far.”

And just when things are going swimmingly, guess who shows up? King James.

On Wednesday night the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers come to town (8 ET, ESPN), looking to leave some coal in the Knicks’ stockings. And if LeBron James needed any extra motivation, he has only to think back to a few weeks ago, when Phil Jackson referenced James’ business partners as his “posse,” which offended James at the time and is something even now he clearly has no interest in rehashing now with Jackson.

The Knicks opened the season in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers pretty quickly established that they were still on top, running the Knicks out of The Q, 117-88. Tonight the Knicks play their third game in four nights, but have the chance to prove that their current place near the top of the Eastern Conference is no fluke.

“I think we’ve grown a lot as a team,” Porzingis said. “That was our first game together. We didn’t really know each other that well yet. I think we are a much better team at this point, but as the season goes on we will keep growing and be an even better team.”

It’s tempting to look at tonight’s matchup as something of a litmus test for the Knicks, a chance to put their four-game winning streak on the line against the best team in the Eastern Conference. But as Anthony noted following the Miami win, in the Eastern Conference there’s a certain inevitability to facing Cleveland: Any road to the top goes through northeast Ohio.

“Regardless if it’s now or later, we gotta face [Cleveland], so we gotta be prepared for that,” Anthony said.

But in the meantime? Manhattan is currently infected with holiday cheer, as seasonal lights twinkle from store windows, and gigantic Christmas trees loom large, standing merry and bright. And as their gift to the fans, the Knicks are playing the best basketball they’ve played in ages.

How it all works out is anyone’s guess. But for now? The Knicks are fun again. And Knicks fans can only hope it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here, find his archive hereor follow him on Twitter.

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