It’s a time to watch their back.
What we’ve seen from the Knicks in the first three games of the season has been nothing short of spectacular. The ball keeps moving, players are hitting their open shots—specifically three-pointers, the team is playing with fire and, most importantly, there is a collective effort on defense.
Yes, defense. An age-old concept that has gone largely unnoticed in New York, save for last year. Yet here the Knicks are—’Melo included—holding teams to an NBA best 85.33 points per contest, exactly two-points better than the ever stingy Chicago Bulls.
Though the Knicks finished in the top-11 for points allowed per game last year, there were visible spurts when the team wasn’t committed to Tyson Chandler’s primary cause. Under Mike Woodson, though, defense has become a priority, for players like Anthony and even J.R. Smith.
Which is great, because while the adage of “defense wins championship” is overrated, there is some truth to it. A team cannot win a title without playing solid defense.
But they can’t win a championship without playing terrific offense either. Luckily for the Knicks, though, they’re playing both. Not only are they holding opponents to a minimal number of points per game, but they themselves are putting up 104.67 per bout, fourth most in the league right now.
Not bad for a team that was written off by many and didn’t even crack the top 10 of most to start to the season, is it?
However, New York must take its success alongside a grain of salt, because the 2012-13 campaign is only just underway. Has their opening display of sheer dominance been encouraging and most likely a sign of things to come? Of course. As small as the sample size is, the Knicks aren’t just winning games, they’re manhandling their opponents.
At the same time, though, a sense of complacency cannot be achieved. Despite throttling them by 20 points to open the season, New York is not the Miami Heat; they cannot put it in cruise control and expect to win 50 or 60 games.
This is a team that still has to work, still has to bust their asses in order to put both points on the board, and keep their opponent from putting points on it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Hell, this league was once built on the scrappy play of guys like Patrick Ewing and David Robinson.
But the key for the Knicks is remember that, remembering that as prolific as their docket reads on paper, they’re a fragile and aging entity that will win as a direct result of their perpetual diligence, not on their talent alone. Because there is a difference between talent and work ethic. The latter is a state of mind, a state of conscious being. The other is innate, something you’re born with.
While this isn’t to say that the Knicks aren’t in possession of plenty of God-given talent, they are not built like the rest of the NBA’s powerhouses, nor are they even a powerhouse in the conventional sense. Are they playing like one? Sure, but not because the team is laden with Carmelo Anthonys and LeBron James’, but because the rotation is full of athletes willing to work, willing to push past the obstacles instead of assuming they’ll just be removed for them.
This isn’t just important; for the Knicks, it’s everything.
There’s a reason a bounty of pundits counted the Knicks out before the season started; there’s a reason so many have been taken aback by their incredible start. This was never a team that wasn’t going to have to work on a daily basis, never a team that wasn’t going to need to execute their gameplan precisely in order push toward a championship.
And this still isn’t a team that’s worthy of basking in the glory that is the fruits of their labor. Because their labor has lasted less than five games; there’s still an entire season to play.
So, should the Knicks believe in themselves, believe that they have what it takes to contend for a title this season, with or without Amar’e Stoudemire?
Yes, they should.
But the key is not playing like they’re satisfied; not moving forward as if the burdensome chip has suddenly been removed from their shoulders.
Lest they be content with allowing the pedestal that comes with this sudden rise to prominence be ripped out from under them.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.