After the New York Knicks defeated the Washington Wizards for their 12th consecutive victory and clinched the Atlantic division title, it is time that the media and other NBA fans start treating the Knickerbockers like a contender for the NBA championship.
At the beginning of the season, ESPN asked its panel of experts who they thought would win the Atlantic Division. Not a single one of them picked the Knicks. Twenty-nine picked the Boston Celtics, while the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers each got three votes.
But despite settling in comfortably in the No. 1 spot in the division since the beginning of the season, the Knicks have long had trouble convincing pundits that they are a team worth looking out for.
Here’s Stephen A. Smith on First Take on April 1 arguing about the Knicks with Spike Lee.
Here we see a classic example of the label the New York Knicks have been trying to get rid of for the entire season: they are simply a bunch of losers who will eventually break down in the playoffs.
Never mind that the Knicks were 46-26 and on an eight-game winning streak when this episode was taped. Smith couldn’t get past the 40 seasons without a championship and the last decade of embarrassing basketball. In his mind, the Knicks were losers until he saw proof to the contrary.
On April 7, he finally saw it.
The Knicks came out firing on all cylinders and defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, on the road no less.
And it wasn't because Oklahoma was shorthanded by any means. Serge Ibaka had five blocks, Kevin Durant had 27 points and Russel Westbrook had 37.
The Knicks simply outlasted them and came away with some key baskets in the closing minutes to take the game 125-120.
If a road win against the defending Western Conference champions aren’t going to turn you into a believer then nothing will, so it’s a pleasure to welcome Stephen A. Smith onto the 2012-2013 Knicks bandwagon.
The Knicks’ recent play also inspired Henry Abbott of TruehoopTV to do a short one-minute segment answering the question, “are the Knicks for real?” which hits a lot of good points such as Carmelo Anthony’s resurgence and team ball movement.
However, I take issue with one of Abbott’s statements. He says the Knicks are ready to make noise in the playoff, but they are not capable of beating the Miami Heat.
My question is why not?
The Knicks have already defeated the Heat three times and taken the season series 3-1. And those games weren’t even close. The Knicks beat them by 20, 10 and 12 points.
If there is one team the Heat do not want to face, it is the Knicks. They don’t want to defend the Knicks’ three-point shooters, they don't want to worry about Tyson Chandler dominating them in the point and most importantly, they don’t want to face Carmelo Anthony the way he’s playing right now.
Anthony has taken the lead in the NBA scoring title race, which looked to be a lock for Durant until Melo started putting up numbers not seen in New York since Bernard King.
To call Anthony’s performances over the past week phenomenal seems like an understatement.
He clearly feels like he has something to prove and he’s determined to take this team deep into the playoffs.
However, no matter how great he’s playing he can’t do it alone. That’s why it’s so great to see that the entire offense is coming together as well.
In addition to Melo’s 36 points, the Knicks got 18 points from Iman Shumpert, 17 points from JR Smith and Chris Copeland along with 12 points from Steve Novak.
In their last 10 games, the Knicks have been producing offensively at an astonishing rate with an offensive efficiency of 120.
With the division title locked up, New York can put all their focus on the playoffs and everyone around the league should be wary not to underestimate this team.