“We’ll learn from this,” Anthony had said. “We’ll come back next year and be ready. In the future, I feel confident about competing with the top teams in the Eastern Conference. We’ve just got to get better and go from there.”
Are the Knicks better? Tonight, we’ll get a chance to see for sure where they measure up against the best basketball team on the planet right now. The Heat plowed over the Thunder in five games last summer, and didn’t seem to miss a beat in picking apart the Celtics in Miami on opening night. It certainly seems as if the Heat have gotten better, and deeper, and more confident.
The Knicks? Well, the version we will see on the Garden floor tonight is certainly a hampered version, without Amar’e Stoudemire, with Tyson Chandler still nursing a balky knee, with Marcus Camby still getting his sea legs under him with a lot of other guys still very … well, old. They are the product of a New Time around the Knicks, one that has rediscovered defense (at least in theory), one that seems (again, in theory) light years removed from the pinball-machine offense favored by Mike D’Antoni for four years.
“There’s a certain way I believe in playing basketball,” Mike Woodson said a few days ago. “There’s a certain way I think you have to play to be successful in this league. And I think this is a group of players that has bought into that way of thinking. Play hard. Play defense. Play for each other.”
The Knicks are better.
It’s a tough test to start the year, but one that is an important barometer to see where the Knicks are. The heat are an incredible basketball team, so I’d expect the Knicks to be fighting uphill all night. And that’s an important point, I want to see them fight and climb. They will face a double digit deficit I’m sure. Can they scratch and claw and make it a close game in the fourth quarter and play to their strengths? Are they going to respect the basketball and not allow the heat to throw alley-oops all night? Are they going to guard Chris Bosh and play him physically?
As far as Melo, the talk is over. It’s time to start playing at a high level. An All-NBA level.