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New Year Brings Enthused Knicks’ Team

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They’re still not a rocket to the moon, but the New York Knicks trajectory has gone in a different direction than we thought just one month go. In beating a Phoenix Suns team that was playing without guard Eric Bledsoe, 98-96, on Monday night at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks achieved two season milestones; they won their first game of the season decided by three-points or less (they were previously 0-5), and, more importantly for the franchise, they moved into a tie for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with city rivals, the Brooklyn Nets.

New York are playing closer to the style of basketball that last season’s 54-win team employed – they are now 6-1 in 2014, including the current five-game win streak they are riding into Charlotte on Tuesday – and the result is a few more W’s in the column. More impressive, even if it isn’t always pretty, is the fact that the Knicks are managing to close games – something they weren’t able to do over the season’s first 30 games.

The team’s defense against the Suns “stiffened up” when the game was on the line, eventually helping the Knicks fight back from five-points down in the fourth quarter, according to head coach Mike Woodson.

“Our defense stiffened up, and we made plays,” said Woodson. “It was a total team effort again tonight, but it was our defense coming down the home stretch that secured it [the win].

“We lost some close games earlier in the year,” Woodson added. “And I call some of the games just boneheaded plays on our part as a coaching staff and as guys playing on the floor, we just didn’t do the right things. I think in close games, we are starting to learn how to figure things out at the end.”

Indeed they are. Although, a franchise that had championship aspirations preseason may have wanted the parts to come together sooner, but it is what it is with this Knick team.

Over their recent stretch of good games in the new year, the Knicks are holding opponents to 92.6 p.p.g on .435 shooting, while themselves posting 98.3 p.p.g on .466 shooting from the field, along with .380 from long-range. These numbers are similar to their 2012-13 averages. More so, they’re getting defensive stops at the right times they are needed. None of the five opponents during the winning streak have cracked 100 points.

“When we get stops it’s going to be tough to beat us,” said J.R. Smith, who finished with 10 points (5-for-11 shooting) in 25 minutes against the Suns. “We have one of the best scorers in the game. Once we get stops and we score, it is going to be hard to beat us.

“Everybody is taking it personal. We are doing a great job of helping each other, and at the same time, taking individual pride in guarding the ball.”

The team’s closer, Carmelo Anthony, shot 9-for-24 but finished with 29 points, 16 rebounds and four assists – displaying yet again that he can be a more versatile player if he applies himself – and made a crucial pass out of a double-team late in the fourth period that found Raymond Felton wide open for a corner three. Anthony says these are the kind of plays that the team wasn’t making during the first 30 games.

“Now I think mentally we’re a different type of team,” Anthony said. “Mentally, we’re starting to believe when we do get down, we still have a chance to win the basketball game. We’re working. It’s coming around for us.”

There’s still some work to be done to get out of the massive hole they dug  for themselves over the course of the season prior to the new year, but once again there is hope for the Knickerbockers

They’re in the eighth seed and 15-22 is not the record they envisioned having at the almost halfway point of the season, but the New Year has afforded the Knicks a new start.

Image via: Robert Sabo/New York Daily News

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