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.