By Joe Giglio
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During the first half of the Knicks’ 118-111 overtime loss in Chicago on Thursday night, TNT play-by-play man Marv Albert summed up the Knicks’ season perfectly: “In reality, they’ve had three different seasons. The 18-6 start, a 20-20 middle and the 13-game winning streak (heading into Chicago).”
With that, Albert gave a glimpse into who the Knicks were, where they went and what they became. Normally, 78 games into an 82-game season is more than ample time to understand exactly what a playoff team truly looks like.
As the 2013 postseason begins next weekend, Knicks fans should feel optimism, but don’t misguide that for understanding.
These Knicks are easy to believe in, especially on nights where the three-point shot is falling at a rapid pace, the turnovers are kept to a minimum, and one or both of defensive stars Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin are on the floor.
Victories over Miami, with our without Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James playing, have infused New York with a sense of pride and hope in taking down the defending champs in a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup.
A 13-game winning streak, including the eye-opening win in Oklahoma City, suggests a deep, well-oiled machine peaking at the right time.
Yet doubt remains about who they actually are, which bodies will be healthy and how the rotations and coaching decisions will mesh in May and June. Mike Woodson has done a phenomenal job this season of navigating an older, injury-plagued roster. While some of his decisions — Jason Kidd’s early-season minutes, burying Pablo Prigioni for a long stretch and jerking around Chris Copeland’s development — seemed odd, most NBA coaches couldn’t handle the extreme lack of day-to-day roster continuity that Woodson has dealt with this year.
While only a handful of games remain between now and Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Knicks still confound their supporters and detractors.
Are they a team that can get hot, ride a great scorer, a deep bench and a defensive anchor to a title, a la the Dallas Mavericks of a few years back?
Or are they a team that will be missing key pieces, see their jump-shooting go cold and succumb to a tougher, defensive-minded team earlier than fans expect?
In reality, a case can be made either way. As with the entire Knicks season, unpredictability is the only certain aspect of the team.
It’s not hard to fast forward and imagine the WFAN phone lines next month, littered with callers chomping at the bit to talk Knicks basketball. But much like the unpredictability of the roster, the tone of conversation will be up in the air.
The notion of angry, distraught and frustrated fans voicing their displeasure at J.R. Smith’s shot selection, Kenyon Martin’s lingering ankle injury and the tougher, stronger Pacers giving the Knicks trouble in the Eastern Conference Semifinals is as easy to imagine as giddy, chest-pounding, cocky fans calling for a quick knockout with the Knicks cruising to a 2-1 series lead over James and Co. in the Eastern Conference Finals.
New York went 18-6 because Raymond Felton proved critics wrong, Rasheed Wallace and Kidd defied age and the team couldn’t miss from three.
They went 20-20 with Amar’e Stoudemire, a banged-up Melo and a tired Kidd.
And they rattled off 13 straight wins on the back of the heroic Kurt Thomas, an infusion of energy from Martin and the quest for an Atlantic Division crown and the No. 2 seed.
There are four games left, and the most important question remains unanswered: When the playoffs begin, which Knicks team will take the floor?
So, what do you think? Who are the REAL Knicks? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…