Don't laugh, roll your eyes or make any obscene gestures, because it's not funny. I'm serious. This is serious. They're serious.
New York's 125-120 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder was a statement win, and a vociferous one at that. There were those (like myself) who considered the Knicks a threat in the Eastern Conference, but there were few who believed they could make a championship push this year.
And I mean, seriously make a championship push. Not get past the first round or even reach the conference finals only to lie down against the Miami Heat. I'm talking come out of the East, past the Heat, past the Indiana Pacers and find themselves nose-to-nose with the Western Conference champions.
That belief. Almost no one had it, and I'd hazard that there are plenty who have yet to be convinced. But it's the truth.
Their victory over the Thunder (in Oklahoma City, no less) extended the Knicks' winning streak to 12 games, the third-longest stretch of perfection in franchise history.
Over the course of the winning streak, New York is averaging 104.2 points per game (second) on 49.6 percent shooting from the floor (second) and 40.9 percent shooting from deep (third). Opponents are scoring just 92.3 points per game on the Knicks (fourth) and they're winning by an average of 12.3 points a night (first).
If this were a five- or seven-game stretch, rants supported by "fluke" arguments would have a place. But this stretch is 12 contests, the fourth-longest winning streak in the NBA this season. These Knicks aren't the product of excessive fortuity. They're for real.
Six of these victories have come on the road, the last five have come against playoff factions, and three have come over the obnoxiously talented Western Conference. That's not luck. It's called peaking at the right time.
New York is the healthiest it has been all season, which is saying something. Why? Because the Knicks haven't been healthy all season. By conventional standards, they're not even healthy now.
Amar'e Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby have spent, and continue to spend, ample time on the sidelines. And Kenyon Martin has joined them. And for those who understand what to look for from Tyson Chandler, he's far from 100 percent as well. He's having trouble locating and catching bounce passes, and anything that involves looking over his shoulder isn't as fluid a motion as it should be.
Yet the Knicks are winning. A lot. And by a lot. Just in time for the playoffs, too.
These Knicks are one of only three teams to have beaten the Heat twice, and they're the only team in the NBA to have beaten them three times. Some point to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade's absence in the third victory as a means to discredit New York. But why?
The Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony and Stoudemire in their second victory over Miami. They almost took down the Heat at Madison Square Garden as well in what would have propelled them to a series sweep. Why is that lucky?
They're one of just three teams to have beaten the Heat at home, and one of six teams to have done the same to the Thunder. Why is that lucky?
It's not. The Knicks aren't lucky. They've fielded the oldest team in NBA history and spent most (all?) of the season battered, bruised and, let's face it, depleted. Still, they've played their way to second in the Eastern Conference and are currently one of just seven teams in the league with at least 50 victories.
'Melo isn't going to score at least 30 points and shoot 50 percent or better from the field in every game (we think). J.R. Smith isn't going to embody efficiency for the rest of the year (we think). And the Knicks are going to experience loss again. But this team is also no longer on the brink of contention. They're there. Right there.
Next to the Heat, Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and whoever else one would name, there are the Knicks. Healthy (but really not), riding the offensive exploits of 'Melo, Smith and general unselfishness, they're there.
Will they battle their way into the Eastern Conference Finals? Past the Heat? Into the finals? Snag a championship?
We can't say that they will, but we also can't say they won't.
The Knicks have seen it all and been through it all (and more) this season. They're also still here, in the thick of the title hunt, defying what we know. Defying what we thought.
And it's there, among the league's elite, where they will stay; where they weren't supposed to be.
But exactly where they belong.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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