On Christmas morning, kids all over the world will wake up early to find their new iPad, videogames, or toys left for them under the tree. That same morning Knick fans will not only awake to some new gifts, but also a new and improved Knick team.
This ‘new’ Knick team wasn’t left by Santa, but rather delivered with the help of General Manager Glen Grundwald and head coach Mike Woodson. For roughly the last decade or so the Knick faithful would wake up Christmas morning with their team sitting in the cellar of the Eastern Conference, but not this year. They have their best mark entering the holiday since 1972 (27-9).
On Sunday they won another grind-it-out game at home against the Timberwolves, moving to 20-7, and becoming the first team in the East to hit the 20 win plateau. A distinction held by the franchise only three times since the NBA broke into two conferences in 1970-71.
They did so in 1970-71, 1972-73 and 1989-1990, when Stu Jackson’s team had the exact same 20-7 start. But that group fell apart in the second half winning just 25 of their last 55 games.
Last season, the Knicks didn’t get their 20th win until their 44th game, but these aren’t the same old Knicks. They currently sit a half game back of the defending champion Heat in the Eastern Conference, and proven that if they do go down, they’re going down swinging.
“They [are] all about winning and that’s what it’s all about. I don’t think we can ever be out of a game.” coach Woodson said after the win Sunday. “I mean we haven’t shown that sign this season and we've won some tight games and then we've won games where we have been down and fought back to win. So it’s the fight in our team"
At the moment, along with Miami, they have to be the early favorites to come out from the East, which is extremely weak this season. The Celtics are aging and struggling. The Nets are only 26 games into their move to Brooklyn and still trying to figure things out. Philadelphia is without Andrew Bynum indefinitely, Danny Granger is still out for the Pacers, and Atlanta doesn’t have the talent to be a serious threat.
The Bulls appear to be the biggest threat. Without Derrick Rose, they continue to win and have already beaten the Knicks twice. But we must remember, New York doesn’t have all hands on deck either.
They have had all their success so far without a single minute from Amare Stoudemire or Iman Shumpert. They are also currently without rugged veteran big men Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby.
In the upcoming weeks Knick fans will get to unwrap a few more presents, as all four players appear close to rejoining the team. The first gift will come Christmas Day, as Camby said Sunday he will be ready to play in Los Angeles after missing the prior 12 games with plantar fasciitis.
"I just have to get my number called," he said. "I'll be available Tuesday." He has only played in only 6 games, and his presence will surely help the depleted frontline. This Knick team has won in spite of being 28th in the league in rebounding, and he should improve that.
The 16-year veteran is still one of the better rebounders in the game. Last season he grabbed 22.8 percent of available misses, a mark that was the highest in the NBA, and he brought down the second-highest percentage of defensive rebounds in the league to Dwight Howard.
Meanwhile, Stoudemire was thought to possibly be under the tree for Knick fans Christmas day, but he has been ruled out despite making the trip out West. The Knicks don’t want to rush him back, and Woodson prefers not to play him until the he gets some practice in with the team. He went through two practices with the team’s D-League affiliate last week, but he has yet to practice with the big boys.
“He’s still going through that process of feeling good about himself when he’s out there working out and we’ve got some practice days when we come back.” Woodson said on Sunday. “I think that would be a good time to get him out on the floor and let him start running around, banging with his own teammates and just see where he is.”
It remains to be seen if he will play on this road trip, but we do know he will be back really soon. He will add more beef in the post, and another dynamic to this team. Most likely he will come off the bench, as he appears willing to do whatever it takes to get a ring.
Remember, he is the longest tenured Knick, and the first one who came to help bring basketball back in this City. Obviously, Carmelo is now the centerpiece, but nobody on this team wants to see this thing all the way through more than the 30-year old Stoudemire.
Even though people say he is done, he still averaged over 17 points and 8 rebounds in a “down season” last year. Surely, he isn’t the same player, but off the bench he should provide an added scoring punch.
Fellow aging big man Rasheed Wallace is still nursing a sore left foot, and he remains listed as “day to day.” Shumpert is also getting close, and he’s still on target for a return at some point in January.
Having these four back in the fold will make this team even deeper, and help shore up some of the Knicks early deficiencies, which is their lack of rebounding, and poor play against quick guards.
These Knickerbockers surely have the depth and talent to make a run deep into the summer, but they have to stay the course and focus on the task at hand, which so happens to be a Christmas afternoon matchup with the Lakers.
The Lakers, who developed a super-team of their own over the summer, have seemingly, swapped places with these Knicks overnight. They’ve gone from a Championship favorite, to a national punch line, something the Knicks are all too familiar with during the new millennium.
But, the tides have finally turned and this is the first season in which the Knicks (20–7) have a better record than the Lakers (13–14) heading into Christmas for the first time since 1996, when New York (19–7) was one game better than the Lakers (19–9) through Christmas Eve.
However, no team has ever won a Championship in December, and the ultimate gift for Knick fans wouldn’t come Christmas morning, but hopefully on one hot day in June.