Carmelo and company are peaking at the right time.
Two Mondays ago, the Knicks were wrapping up their West-Coast trip from hell in Salt Lake City, when one of the unlikeliest heroes emerged. 40-year old Kurt Thomas delivered an inspiring performance on a fractured foot for his down-and out team, who had lost the first four games of the Western swing by 12 points or more.
The “Big Three” of Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler all watched from the sidelines and the swooning ballclub seemed destined for a sixth straight loss, which would’ve dropped them into a tie atop the Atlantic division with the Nets.
The box score may have only read six points, three rebounds and three blocks, but “Crazy Eyes” logged a season-high 27 minutes in the 90-83 victory over Utah and his gutsy performance earned him the game ball.
His play didn’t come as a surprise to coach Mike Woodson, who told reporters in January, “I believe that every one of the guys we have here will win a game or two for us, even the ones you don’t expect.”
Nobody quite knows yet if the stress fracture in his right foot will end his season, or perhaps his career. But, we do know he helped steer the Knicks sinking ship out from oblivion and we now know it helped ignite what has become a league high ten game winning streak.
“The turning point was Utah. Even being short-handed Kurt Thomas set us up there, in terms of us keying in on a win that we really had to have and made our trip coming home a lot sweeter,” Woodson said after Wednesdays win over the Hawks. ”We forgot about that West Coast swing now, we moved on and 10 games later were still undefeated.”
Two nights ago in Atlanta, Anthony put on a second clinic in as many games, the encore coming in front of his boy-hood idol and Knick legend Bernard King, as he settled for becoming the first Knick since Patrick Ewing (in 1989-90) to have consecutive games of at least 40 points. In two days’ work Anthony dropped 90 points on a staggering 35 of 53 from the field, for a sizzling .660 success rate.
It’s really amazing what just a few weeks can do for a team. Heading into that Utah game many started writing their Knick obituaries, as they languished to a 20-21 mark after beginning the season 18-5.
During the rut the Knicks looked like a shell of their November and December selves. The hounding defense wasn’t there on a nightly basis, the crisp ball movement slowed, the 3-pointers stopped falling at a record pace and they finally started showing their age.
The oldest team assembled in NBA history was seemingly breaking down by the day, and the medical staff has been one of the busiest units in the league. It didn’t help that March was the most daunting month on the schedule, with 18 games and six back-to-backs.
“March is going to be a tough schedule for us,” Woodson said weeks back. “And guys have got to really lock in get their proper rest and be ready to play.”
However, the group came out with twelve wins, their highest total in a month since 1994, when Pat Riley’s squad went 14-0. The Knicks now have a winning record in every month this season and if they do so in April they will be the first Knicks team since 1996-97 to have a winning record in every month of a season.
The Knicks remain focused on two goals — a division title and 50 wins — both of which seem safely in reach, as they hold a firm five and a half game lead over the Nets. But, that’s not what the 2012-13 Knicks will be remembered for, as they will be solely judged on their postseason success. One person who certainly recognizes this is Anthony.
"He's committed, man," Woodson said after his recent scoring barrage. "He's hungry just like LeBron and those guys were hungry a few years ago trying to chase that title. And that's what we're trying to do as a team."
Fueled by the dominance of Anthony, the Knicks are riding high into the spring and are currently 22 games above .500 (48-26) for the first time since 1997. This late-season surge couldn’t have come at a better time, and these last few weeks have given us a clearer picture of just who these Knicks are right now and where they're going.
The team returns home Friday to play the Milwaukee Bucks, where they will be honoring the 40th anniversary of the 1972–73 championship team, the last Knicks' team to win a title. “Clyde” Frazier, Earl “The Pearl,” Willis Reed, Bill Bradley and Dick Barnett, whose numbers hang in the rafters will be back. Even Phil Jackson and his 13 rings will be in attendance.
It’s ironic that this event is happening now, because at the moment the Knicks are playing the best basketball we’ve seen from them since the 90’s and Woodson’s group harbors similar championship aspirations.
It’s been a long time since New Yorkers hopes were this high about the Knicks in April. The hope is that they can ride this wave into the playoffs and to their first postseason series victory since 2000, and hopefully a bit further.