Knicks 110, Pacers 109

As with a fellow rite of spring, jockeying has once again become an important factor in the NBA’s regular season home stretch.

With just three games remaining entering  Sunday’s series finale against the Pacers, the Knicks were  playing close attention to the top of the standings, where Miami’s convincing afternoon win over a floundering Boston put them in sole possession of the second seed.

Conventional wisdom had it that the Knicks would prefer to play the Heat, against whom they’ve won the last two. But Boston’s noticeable late season limps might be enough to convince the Bockers to hold steady in the six spot.

The Pacers, on the other hand, were one of four Eastern Conference teams (the Magic, Hawks and Bulls being the other three) whose postseason positions had already been sealed. Which begged the question: how hard would Frank Vogel run his starting steeds Sunday night?

Not quite hard enough, as it turns out.

Carmelo Anthony hit his second game-winner in a Knick uniform, capping off a 110-109 win in which he scored a game high 34, including six three pointers.

More importantly, he came up with a stifling, well-timed block on Danny Granger’s last second jumper – almost the same shot, incidentally, that Granger had hit over Shawne Williams to give the Pacers a 117-115 victory back in March.

Most importantly, with that one sensational sequence, New York’s prodigal hero helped secure the Knicks’ first winning season in 10 years, while putting them within one win (or a Sixers loss) of securing the sixth seed outright.

With Amare Stoudemire sidelined for the second consecutive game with a mild ankle sprain, Anthony was once again the focus of the offense. And though his efficiency wasn’t quite what it’s been during much of the team’s 7 game winning streak (11-28 and a TS% of just under 54%), all eight of his fourth quarter points were key to keeping the Knicks within striking distance.

Chauncey Billups added 21 (11 of them from the free throw line – the only place he found some semblance of consistency), while Toney Douglas turned in another solid performance off the bench, banking 14 on 10 shots.

Though sporadic, the Knick ‘D’ was at times tenacious. They turned 5 first-half steals (which accounted for all of Indy’s TOs in that span) into 13 points, helping build a 69-61 lead at the break. Later, the Bockers were able to recover from a horrendous third quarter in which they shot just 4/20 and were outscored 35-20 by holding Indiana to just 13 points in the final frame.

But perhaps most impressively, they held the Pacers scoreless for the final 3:31 of regulation – one of the longest and most noticeably inspired stretches of the season.

At this point, the Knicks know three things: (1) they’ll be playing late into April for the first time in seven years; (2) they finish the season against Chicago (at home on Tuesday) and Boston (in Beantown Wednesday); and (3) a win over either (or a Philly loss) would keep them where they are in terms of seeding.

Where the team plane lands Friday, however, remains anyone’s guess.

Knicks 97, Sixers 92

Early in the season, the Knicks and Sixers were in similarly dire straits. Eleven games in, New York was 3-8 and in the midst of a six game losing streak. Meanwhile, the Sixers stumbled even more clumsily out of the gate, starting 3-13.

The difference lay in expectations. While the Knicks were projected to ride the sometimes bumpy learning curve to their first playoff appearance in seven years, most thought the Sixers would be content to leave only Toronto and New Jersey in their middling wake.

Fast-forward 5 months. While the Knicks have largely stuck to their up-and-down program, it’s been the Sixers who have completely re-written theirs, entering Wednesday’s showdown in sole possession of 6th place in the Eastern Conference at 40-38, a half-game ahead of New York.

But it was New York’s narrow 97-92 win that flipped the standings’ script – at least for a night.

Carmelo Anthony continued his recent torrid play, netting 31 with 10 rebounds, including five three pointers. During the Knicks’ five-game winning streak, Anthony has averaged 31.4 points and 8.8 rebounds, including 52% from beyond the arc and a TS% of 64%.

Amare Stoudemire added a belabored 18 on 19 shots, while Toney Douglas again provided a key spark off the bench, scoring 17 — many of them after replacing Chauncey Billups, who left with a minor right thigh contusion late in the third quarter.

Just as their new-found defensive intensity had in their previous four wins, Wednesday’s victory saw the Knicks exorcise yet another demon: that of the second half collapse. While the Bockers’ once again allowed an opponent to storm back – they were up by 13 at the start of the fourth –timely threes from Anthony and Douglas helped New York pull away down the stretch.

While the Sixers managed to start and stay anemic from the perimeter, their interior presence continued to give the Knicks fits, with Elton Brand and Thadeus Young combining for 49 points and 16 rebounds on 22-32 shooting.

The Knicks managed to keep Philly at bay with effective and timely three point shooting, going 11-31 from deep, compared to just 2-18 for their foes.

For a team just ten days removed from feeling both its fortunes and its fan base deteriorating by the New York minute, the Knicks’ recent streak certainly boasts a fortuitous timing. They’ll certainly need the momentum: With rest for many of the starters likely at some point during their final four games, at least the Knicks will have this stretch to look back to when the time comes rev up the playoff engines.

PLAYOFFS?!?!?!?!?!: Knicks 123, Cavs 107

Entering Sunday’s fourth and final meeting between the Knicks and Cavs, each teams could count in its disfavor a vexing drought: While the orange and blue had yet to best the lowly ‘Liers in 11 games dating back to 2009, Cleveland entered the game 0-11 on Sundays this season.

Something had to give. As it turns out, the Cavs were in a decidedly giving mood, committing 22 turnovers in helping the Knicks’ coast to a 123-107 victory.

Coupled with Charlotte’s loss to Washington, the win sealed the Knicks’ first playoff berth in 7 years, a drought matched in that stretch only by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Playing their first game with more than a day’s rest since the All-Star break, the Knicks looked as rejuvenated as they were bent on vengeance early on, going up by as many as 22 in the first half.

Indeed, to anyone who watched, the first 20 minutes must have seemed like a bizarre photo negative; whereas their typical MO has been to spot a sizable early lead, only to claw back with varying degrees of success, this time it was the Knicks who watched their early lights-out shooting fade down the first half stretch.

But the Cavs never quite closed the gap, as the Knicks pulled off another seldom-seen feat in outscoring Cleveland 30-19 in a convincing fourth quarter.

Chauncey Billups seemed particularly invigorated by the three-day sabbatical, pacing the Knicks out of the gate with 17 first quarter points on 6-6 shooting before finishing with 23, seven assists and a sparkling 79% TS%.

With both Stat (28 points with a TS% of 55%) and Melo (25 points and a TS% of 57%) picking up Chauncey’s second half slack, the Knicks’ Big Tree each tallied 20 for the second consecutive game.

Meanwhile, Toney Douglas, Shawne Williams and Bill Walker provided the offensive spark off the bench, combining for 32 points on 7-11 shooting from deep. Overall the Knicks shot 42% from downtown, helping keep at bay a Cavs team that logged an overall eFG% of 59%.

Thankfully, the Cavs seemed equally determined to keep themselves at bay, matching their 22 turnovers with poor free-throw shooting (14-24) and a stagnant fourth quarter in which they shot just 6-18 from the floor.

Save for a few requisite lapses and another Knicks Middling Opponent Hall of Fame (KMOHOF) performance from J.J. Hickson (averaging 23 a game in his last three against New York), the Knicks were at least able to get stops when they needed them – a skill they’ll doubtless need to hone to survive any of their possible first round matchups.

Postseason implications aside, last night’s win may have provided little more than a much-needed sigh of relief for the Knick faithful, for whom the Lebron-less Cavs had provided so many sobering wakeup calls during what was supposed to be a season-long party march to the playoffs.

But as the final seconds ticked down and the league scoreboard showed the Wizards closing in on a win in Charlotte, the moment briefly morphed into something much bigger: the relief of a seven-year itch as painful and as confounding as any in sports over the last decade.

Whatever happens next, one thing’s for sure: In the midst of what’s often felt like a sports marriage mired in misery, a playoff dalliance with this team is one fling Knicks fans needn’t be ashamed about.

Knicks 113, Magic 106

During their recent skid, the outlook of Carmelo Anthony had been like that of the doomed black knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: a mix of comical nonchalance and frightening denial in the midst of repeated, very bloody setbacks.

“It’s just a flesh wound”, he seemed to say after every disappointing outing or fourth quarter collapse – wounds that time and practice would surely heal.

That all changed prior to Monday’s matchup with the Magic – their second meeting in less than a week – with Anthony reluctantly labeling the game a must-win. Still, against an Orlando squad they had yet to best in three tries, you could forgive the Knick faithful for assuming even Melo’s contrite clarion call wouldn’t be enough to stop the bleeding.

Instead, Knick Knation was treated to a much-needed win as zany and unexpected as any Python skit, as New York topped Orlando 113-106 in overtime. Once again the Knicks squandered a second half lead – this one a 6 point spot late in the fourth – allowing the Magic to extend the game on Jason Richardson’s 25-foot bomb with just over 5 seconds remaining.

Despite sloppy play and bricks abound on both sides – and Dwight Howard’s 17th technical of the season – the Knicks managed to pull away in OT behind the timely scoring of Chauncey Billups (17 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and an overtime three that put the Knicks up for good, 106-104), Toney Douglas (16 points, 4 rebounds, an equally clutch overtime triple and a team high +/- of +20), and Anthony himself.

Fittingly, it was Melo who made the most of his palpable pre-game urgency, banking a Knick tenure high 39 points on 26 shots – including a whopping 33 in the second half and 19 in the third quarter alone – to go along with 10 rebounds and one, gigantic sigh of relief that millions would be content to mark an assist.

All in all it was a game that displayed both the best and worst of New York’s prodigal star. At times Anthony was unstoppable, and his teammates were more than willing to oblige Melo’s ISO tendencies for the sake of a much-needed hot hand. Like the team as a whole, on defense Anthony was engaged throughout, deflecting passes and exuding an enthusiasm for the craft seldom seen since his late February arrival.

But he also missed a wide-open Landry Fields while draped with no less than three defenders as time expired in regulation, and hoisted a number of ill-advised shots which – short of taking away from his enormous contribution to the desperately-needed W – couldn’t help but make any Knick fan feel just a little bit nervous.

If Melo made the Garden floor his center stage, Amar’ Stoudemire played the opera’s phantom, netting a quiet-but-efficient 20 points on just 10 shots. Despite barely touching the ball throughout the fourth and much of overtime, by game’s end it was Stoudemire’s $100 million smile that beamed the brightest, as the palpable burden that seemed to weigh on his shoulders more than any other during the team’s brutal stretch seemed for a moment lifted by the raucous Garden cheers.

The Knicks benefited greatly from the absence of Jameer Nelson, who sat out with a minor knee tweak. Nelson had given New York fits of late, averaging 22.5 points on 62% shooting in their last two meetings.  But despite a timely three that helped close the gap in regulation, Gilbert Arenas struggled mightily in Nelson’s stead – his first start since being traded from Washington on December 19th – netting just 9 points on 2-7 shooting and a team high five turnovers.

Like Anthony, Dwight Howard supplanted a quiet first two quarters with a truly beastly second half in which he scored 25 of his 29 points and grabbed 13 of his 18 rebounds.  Seemingly out of answers for a honed-in Howard, Mike D’Antoni decided to throw seldom-used Shelden Williams – acquired from Denver in the Anthony trade – into the fire midway through the fourth. Williams responded with a key stretch in which he stole an entry pass intended for Howard, tied him up for a jump ball, and grabbed an offensive rebound that resulted in a timely Stoudemire lay-in.

With his serviceable play on the defensive end, Williams may have earned himself heavier minutes (if not the outright starting slot) going forward. In the process, he may help fill a void that had plagued the Knicks throughout their recent skid – a 10-game streak in which D’Antoni had started four different centers and six different lineups (resulting in 9 losses) in a desperate attempt to find the right mix for their first playoff appearance in 7 years.

The Knicks will play one more game – Wednesday night against the Nets – before a much needed three days of rest leading up to Sunday’s series finale against the confounding Cavaliers, whom the Knicks have yet to best in 3 tries this year. With their next three games at home against middling opponents, the Knicks couldn’t have picked a better night to get back on track. And while it would still take a collapse on the order of the 2007 Mets to put them in the lottery and out of the playoffs, their new-found sense of urgency – and defensive intensity – should remain ready for the tapping as they head into the final pre-playoff stretch.

Hey, it’s better than trying to win by bleeding on them.

Magic 111, Knicks 99

November 27th, 2010.  That was when the New York Knicks last found themselves below .500.

But unlike their recent, highly publicized skid, that night’s 99-90 home loss to the Hawks was viewed as the easily-excused hiccup between a cluster of 13 wins which had – for a fleeting moment – suggested the dawning of a new and exciting era in Knicks basketball.

Now, a full month into the Carmelo Anthony era, it’s the excuses that seem to be piling up as quickly as the Ls.

Lately, Amare Stoudemire has played the role of post-game oracle in this respect, offering up everything from “lack of experience / chemistry”  to the seemingly go-to “not enough energy” as a defeat’s justification du jour.

Tonight, Stoudemire need look no further than his own dismal stat line – 13 points on 6-20 shooting (including 1-3 from the stripe) and a team low +/- of -15 – for clues as to what to tell the legion of mics and cameras about this one.

The Knicks squandered yet another halftime lead and were outscored 32-21 in the final stanza, falling to the Magic for the third time this season 111-99. The loss dropped the Knicks to 34-35, a full 2 games behind Philadelphia and just 3 1/2 ahead of the 8th place Pacers.

Although they were down only 7 with just under 2 minutes remaining, fans were exiting the Garden in droves – as clear a sign as any that “wait until next year” is a mantra falling increasingly on deaf ears.

As in the previous two Magic losses, the Knicks were again unable to effectively contain Dwight Howard, who finished with 33 points and 11 rebounds, including 11-13 from the free throw line. (Some might gawk at that last line, but clearly Patrick Ewing has his young pupil channeling the former’s charity stripe prowess against his long-time employer: In three games against the Knicks this year, Howard has connected on 33 of 43 [77%] of his attempts.)

Despite an outwardly efficient 17 on 12 shots (including 3 threes), Chauncey Billups again struggled to find an offensive rhythm, hoisting up a pair of ill-advised bombs late in the fourth that each resulted in baskets at the other end for the Magic.

Meanwhile, Toney Douglas was once again a catalyst-to-no-avail – and an efficient one at that – banking 17 on 14 shots (including 3-6 from behind the arc) in spelling his elder off the bench.

In doing so, TD continued an impressive March run in which he’s averaging 16.8 points, 7 assists, and 3.4 three pointers per 36, to go along with a TS% of 58%. And while his assist numbers (he had but 1 tonight) may not reflect as much, his ability to probe the paint without coughing up the rock have improved noticeably. In whatever capacity that might be, such play from the young point is doubtless a good sign for the future.

Fresh off the pilot airing of The Andy and Landry Show, everyone’s favorite Stanford grad once again struggled against the Magic, against whom he’s averaged a paltry 3.7 points and 6.3 rebounds with an eFG% of 32%. Whether the result of the feared “rookie wall” or simply a matter of readjusting to new teammates, Fields’ recent struggles have mimicked those of the team as a whole – a testament to just how big a bellwether the precocious neophyte is to the new-look Knicks.

Ironically, the two things that have tended to go part and parcel with the Knicks’ recent string of losses – Melo’s ball-stopping and cheesecloth team defense – were largely absent on this night. Melo had perhaps his most well-rounded game in orange and blue, scoring 24 with a shiny TS% of 71% to go along with 5 rebounds, a season high 9 assists, and 2 steals.

Despite being guarded for much of the night by the very un-glue-like Hedo Turkoglu, Anthony continually found open cutters and weak side open shooters. But with Stoudemire struggling and Billups looking a step slow, Anthony may have chosen the wrong night to try and prove the trade naysayers wrong.

Indeed, at this point you can almost forgive Melo for thinking himself incapable of doing anything right.

To which there is only one real reply: welcome to New York.

Celtics 96, Knicks 86

Disclaimer: as this was written for the Daily Dime and in a fog of moderate-to-severe anger (made all the more intense by a round of antibiotics which preclude me from drinking), please excuse both the lack of statistics and the overly pessimistic tone of this screed.

2010 was supposed to be a year of changing fortunes for the New York Knicks. And in a few meaningful ways, it has been. Playoff bound for the first time in seven years and with a certifiable Big Three to call their own, the Knicks seem to have embraced the new decade – like the fans their new-look squad – while distancing themselves from the relative misery and disappointment of the one just past.

But when it comes to the Boston Celtics, Monday night’s 96-86 humiliating home meltdown was very much the same old story.

The Celtics outscored the Bockers 33-17 in a final frame which saw both Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony all but vanish. Boston’s Big Three of Pierce, Allen and Garnett, meanwhile, tallied 25 of their team’s fourth quarter points, as the Celtics seemed to beat the Knicks to every loose ball and critical rebound.

To say the game was a slugfest would be an understatement: both Ray Allen and Carmelo Anthony found themselves on the receiving end of errant elbows that drew literal streams of blood.

The fact that it was Melo who inadvertently caught Allen on the top of the head in the 2nd quarter – only to get the same from Rajon Rondo at midcourt halfway through the 4th – imparted a karmic irony that was lost on no one, as barbs, barks and elbows were traded as much as butterfly band-aids in a truly heated second half.

The loss put the Knicks at .500 for the first time since February 11th, a 113-96 home drubbing by the Lakers. At that point in the season, many blamed the Knicks’ woes on the incessant Carmelo Anthony trade talks and the toll it was taking on team chemistry and morale. Now, with New York having dropped 6 of their last 7 and 9 of 16 since the Anthony trade, chemistry and morale are again at the heart of the conversation.

Refreshingly, both seemed intact early, as solid ball movement and the efficient shooting of Anthony (15 first half points on 7 of 12 shooting) and Stoudemire (11 points on 5-8 shooting) – combined with a shockingly staunch stretch of D that included a span of 270 seconds where the Celtics failed to score – helped put the Knicks up 14 at the break.

After cutting the Knick lead to 6 entering the fourth, Boston’s lockdown defense and patient ball movement began to pay dividends. With Stoudemire and Anthony both looking lost and unsure, the Knicks offense crumbled steadily, mustering a measly 4 points in the final 7:26, and no points in the final 3:28.

Using the frenzied Garden chants as fuel down the stretch, the Celtics closed the game with a playoff-level intensity unbecoming their typical March malaise. What was a still a two-point game with 2:34 quickly mushroomed to 6, then 8, then 10, in a span which saw Carmelo Anthony attempt exactly zero shots and Stoudemire’s lone 15-foot jumper clang errant.

All three Knicks-Celtics games have had a palpable playoff feel. But as the season nears the finish line, the likelihood of the first Boston-New York series since 1990 is becoming more of a possibility. The surging Sixers seem poised to hold on to the sixth seed – if not steal the 5th spot from the stumbling Hawks – and an equally favorable home stretch makes the Bulls’ chances of landing the top seed even more likely. The Magic, meanwhile, will likely retain the 4th seed, which they’ve held for most of the year.

That leaves the enigmatic Heat, who may wish to stand pat at #3 – where they’d face a Philadelphia team they have yet to lose to – rather than risk a run-in with the Knicks, who seem to have their number of late.

The Knicks and Celtics will meet one more time in Boston on April 13th, the last game of the regular season for both squads.

The way it’s shaping up now, it could be the Knicks’ final pre-playoff chance to exorcise their many demons in what will certainly have the look and feel of a de facto Game 1. Tonight they were all on display, with rebounding (44-38), turnovers (13-8), and interior defense (44 points in the paint to 28) all once again finding the Knicks holding the short end of the stat stick.

But one demon more than any other will doubtless loom larger and louder:  that of the fourth quarter collapse. Having been outscored by a combined 25 in the last two final frames against their old nemesis, Amare, Melo and the rest of the Knicks should by then know better than anyone the importance of execution and smart play when it counts.

If they don’t, the Celtics themselves would certainly love nothing better than to teach them again.

The Melozoic Era: 11 games in

Over the last three weeks, one word more than any other has peppered the KnickerBlogger forums and defined much of its discourse: gel. More specifically, how long would it take for the new-look Knicks to do just that? Some said 5 games. Others said we could do little more than wait ‘til next season – when we’d have a playoff round or two and a full training camp with a new draft pick under our belts (coughKembaWalkerPleaseGetaDUIcough) – to get a truly accurate picture.

I said 10 games. Why? I’d love to say there was some precedent-guided rationale. But there wasn’t. It was completely arbitrary. Or so it seemed at the time. Unfortunately, I somehow lost the ability to count to 10. Thus,  Melo: 10 games in has become, instead, Melo: 11 games in. Hey, at least it’s symmetrical.

After Sunday’s horrifying and sloptastic 106-93 home loss to the Pacers – the 11th game in the Melozoic era – what once seemed a wholly flippant benchmark suddenly took on new weight. Indeed, the Mighty we’d witnessed freeze Cryami with tenacious down-the-stretch defense and timely, disciplined baskets had fallen, and fallen hard. That night in South Beach, the memory was of Stat swooping across the lane like a crazed Pterodactyl, sending LeBron’s attempted shot ricocheting gloriously off the glass in what was, up to that point, the new unit’s defining moment.

Last night, it was the perpetually overachieving and wily Tyler Hansbrough wreaking havoc on the Knicks’ interior D. In so doing, he became just the latest in a growing litany of – how do I put this – “talent-neutral” players to perform as if James Dolan himself had foreclosed on his family’s farm. Without franchise keystone Danny Granger, the Pacers – whom the Knicks shockingly outrebounded 44-33 – seemed to score at will en route to a matadorian 65% TS% that managed to pull a fairly audible chorus of boos from the otherwise subdued Garden crowd. This, after confident proclamations in outlets abound about the Knicks’ potential for upsetting top flight teams like Chicago and Miami in a best of seven series? Are we talking about the same team?

Like that of the hair variety, The Bockers’ new “gel” feels pretty sticky. The troubling loss put the Knicks at 1-3 against teams below .500 since the trade, and 5-2 against teams above it. To call that schizophrenic really wouldn’t be much of a stretch: the team’s entire mood and demeanor seems to swing solely on the reputation of the competition at hand. They seem to pick it up for the good teams (Dallas non withstanding), and totally lay it downs at the feet of the dregs.

Strangely enough, however, when it comes to Anthony himself, what we’ve seen throughout the year – and throughout his career – is largely been what we’ve gotten (with some notable exceptions). From PER to shooting percentage to turnovers, Anthony has basically stuck to his own mean since arriving in Manhattan.

Hardcore supporters of the trade and certifiable Melomaniacs could be forgiven for hoping that the Knicks’ overall performance would mimic that of their newly-acquired star.  That would fit the hero narrative, after all. But that hasn’t been the case. In the 5 losses since Melo’s late February acquisition, he’s netted a TS% of 53%. In their 6 wins? 56%. For his first 11 games in New york, Melo continues to hover around both his career and pre-Knick season % at a just shade over 54%. Even his usage rate has held steady (29.0 before the trade; 29.2 after).

Melo’s largest deviations have come with respect to 3 pointers (42% and nearly one more attempt per game with the Knicks vs. 33% with the Nuggets), rebounds (7.5 per 36 for the year vs. 6.5 per 36 since the trade) and assists (3.0 overall and 3.6 per 36 since the trade). Looking at his shooting, Melo is basically taking one more 3 point attempt per game, and that’s it (19.3 shot attempts per game pre-trade to 20 per game post-trade). Explanations for the rebounding drop, on the other hand, aren’t so readily apparent. However, the disparity might be explained by Melo’s reduced oreb per 36, which have fallen slightly since his arrival.

Understanding his prowess for put-backs after attempts at the rim, combined with his shooting more 3s, Melo appears to be taking more jump shots since his arrival than before, relying less on the “bully ball” that even he claimed was unsustainable. Of course, I didn’t watch all the game film from his 50 some-odd Denver games, so this last part is pure speculation. But something to consider.

For whatever can’t be found in terms of drastic changes in stats, in terms of style, there has certainly been a qualitatively different look and feel about the Knicks since Melo’s arrival. A “swag”, if you will. The pace has slowed, both statistically and viscerally. Before the trade, Stoudemire was typically the only iso-worthy player on the floor. Now the Knicks have two certifiable go-to guys, which has paid dividends down the stretch twice already (Melo channeling LeBron into Stat’s help D against Miami, and Melo canning the game winner in Memphis), but has also lead to more-ball stopping possessions and arguably more ill-advised shots.

Obviously, the biggest X-factor in this entire equation has been Billups – or the lack thereof. After missing 6 games with a deep thigh bruise, Mr. Big Shot may have been the only Knick player sweating Sunday night, looking noticeably winded and not quite up to game snuff. Hopefully, given a few more games of putting his lungs and legs back through the gauntlet, Billups will pick up where he left off before the injury, when his poise and presence was perhaps doing more than anything to keep the Knicks in the game.

When you consider that Melo has played more games in a Knick uniform with Toney Douglas as the starter (six) than with Chauncey leading the charge (five), that lack of PG continuity becomes perhaps the single most legitimate case for holding out judgment until further down the road.

In short: it seems as if they’re still very much figuring out how to play together. But here’s the thing: perhaps everyone is. It doesn’t matter if you’re the ’70 Knicks, the ’05 Pistons or the 2011 Cavaliers: teams are always figuring out how to play together. Some teams just have it figured out more often, and can do it for longer stretches.

Without sounding too meta, maybe the Knicks are still figuring out how to figure it out. But they’ve definitely shown glimpses of a team who, if they were to truly get it together, could very well become a force far sooner than most of us had hoped. That is, of course, assuming Hyde is left at home. For now, it’s probably safe to assume that dangerous and confounding will continue to define the Knicks in equal fashion and measure for the foreseeable future.