DALLAS — They’re alive! Left for dead, a thumping pulse has been detected in the New York Knicks and the submarining Atlantic Division. Hide your women and children!
In the final days of 2013, the Knicks left Toronto dragging another L around their limp necks, a battered and beaten bunch. A few days later they boarded a plane bound for 2014 and the impossible Texas Triangle road trip that would swallow them up for good. Oh no, not these Knickerbockers, who picked a fine time to reveal a beating heart.
“We have lots of veterans on this team, got a couple of young guys that we depend on, but we don’t have to talk about things, man,” forward Kenyon Martin said. “We know when we’re not playing well, we know when we’re not giving the maximum effort each and every night. That’s what it’s about, man, guys looking in the mirror.”
They stunned the Spurs. Nearly shocked the Rockets, and probably should have. And then on a bone-cold Sunday night in Dallas, the Knicks, even playing without Tyson Chandler, too ill to stay on the court just minutes into the game, went nearly wire-to-wire to trip the Mavericks.
“As far as this trip goes, we have gotten out of that [dark] place,” said Carmelo Anthony, who had 15 points in the first quarter and finished with 19 in the 92-80 victory. “You can see guys doing things that as a team, as individuals we haven’t been doing all season long. It’s showing out there on the basketball court on both ends. Guys are starting to communicate more, talk more and have fun. That’s the most important thing.”
Where has this been the last two months? Don’t ask. The question is can it last?
“It’s a new year man. We’re getting bodies back,” said Martin, who fought through a tender ankle to hit 7-of-8 shots for 14 points and grabbed six boards. “If we can get everybody on the court at once that’d be a great thing.”
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle came away so impressed with the Knicks’ play in Texas that he rose up, unprompted, and strongly backed Mike Woodson and the work he’s done through an injury spat and speculation about his job.
“I marvel at the job he’s doing with this team right now given the circumstances, given all the ridiculous rumors about his job security and all the nonsense that’s being stirred up in the that media cesspool in New York City,” Carlisle said. “This is a man who’s one of the top coaches in the league, and a man of great integrity and substance. He proved that tonight. They easily could have swept this road trip. This is supposedly a team that’s dysfunctional. He’s got a great touch with that team.”
The Knicks even picked up a game on the suddenly smoking Toronto Raptors, who ascended a game above .500 and put a scare into the Heat on Sunday before being turned away. New York’s record remains unsightly, yet the win to get to 11-22 also closed the division gap to 5.5 games and to just 2.5 games behind the reeling Pistons for the final playoff spot.
But they’re not the only Atlantic squad suddenly doing work in 2014. Since the calendar changed, the NBA’s JV division has gone 9-5 with Boston racking up three of the losses. Philadelphia’s 3-0; Brooklyn’s 2-0; New York and Toronto are each 2-1. Collectively this past week they’ve taken down the West’s top three teams — Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Portland. Dallas makes four of the West’s top eight.
The Knicks, still down guards Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni, did it Friday with a collective team effort and good defense, holding Dallas to 41.0 percent shooting. Anthony had five assists, seven rebounds and a hustle block of Mavs forward Shawn Marion. Andrea Bargnani had 13 points and six rebounds. Amar’e Stoudemire had 11 points and seven rebounds. Tim Hardaway Jr. was 4-for-6 from the floor with 10 points. Iman Shumpert, a scoring machine in the first two games of the trip, made life tough on Monta Ellis and saved five of his nine points for crunch time with Dallas trying to make a run. With Anthony being doubled, Shumpert made a pretty drive past Dirk Nowitzki and then canned a big 3-pointer to ice it.
“Right now you can just see the way that guys are responding, playing,” Anthony said. “It seems like guys are having fun. We just want to build on that game by game and see what happens.”
With a tough schedule ahead that includes Miami, Phoenix, Indiana and the Clippers among their next seven games, it won’t take long to find out if the Knicks’ fight will extend beyond an inspiring trip through Texas.