Knicks Have Arrived Atop the Eastern Conference


David T. Foster III

Anthony’s improved all-around game has been essential to the the team’s 15-5 start. (David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/MCT)


The New York Knicks stand atop the Atlantic division through the first 20 games of the year, and leading the charge is Carmelo Anthony, whose impressive scoring has never been the problem. This year, his all-around game has improved. Anthony is the undisputed leader of this team and is playing like an MVP. For the team, the defense has stepped up when needed, and the old veterans are playing crucial minutes down the stretch. All in all, the Knicks are for real.

Anthony’s improved all-around game has been essential to the the team’s 15-5 start. (David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/MCT)

After defeating the Denver Nuggets Sunday night, their record at Madison Square Garden remains perfect (8-0), while the team has witnessed their cross-town rival Brooklyn Nets crumble over the last couple games with a four-game losing streak. Through the first 20 games of the year, the Knicks are defending New York home-court much better than the Nets.

There are several explanations for the success the Knicks have had during the early part of the year, and it all starts with the defense. Ranked in the top 10, their defense is sparked by the high-IQ play of Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer, Tyson Chandler and, somewhat surprisingly, J.R. Smith. With so many defensive-oriented players playing for a defensive-minded coach, the formula seems to be working. Anthony has bought into this system, and his defensive skills have been on display. Talent was never an issue for Anthony, but the question of his effort has disappeared, as he is now committed and playing excellent ball on both ends of the floor.

Ball movement has changed quite a bit this season, too. The one-on-one is something of the past, with the exceptions of isolation plays for Anthony and Smith. With Raymond Felton and Kidd in the back court, the ball movement has been flowing smoothly to find the more than occasional chance for an alley-oop to Chandler, a backdoor-pass to the cutting Brewer, or to find the open man in the corner for a three, usually Steve Novak. All the little things have been figured out, which means a deeper team down the stretch.

While Anthony’s average points per game won’t stand out from his previous seasons, as he stands at 26.8 and has averaged 24.7 for his career, the one element that has changed is his mentality. His three-point shooting is more efficient, and his defense is now what many pundits and players alike thought it could be. Looking as polished as ever, he has emerged as an MVP candidate. His scoring is there, as well as his defense and rebounds, and his team has not only a winning record, but also the best record in the Eastern Conference.

With Amar’e Stoudamire and Iman Shumpert both on their way back from injury, this team should become even deeper down the stretch in March and April. The Knicks are here, and they are here to stay. Miami, here come the Knickerbockers.