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What Can We Expect From the Knicks Over the Next Month?

The Knicks are in the midst — and, most likely, have just finished — their most prosperous month stretch in more than a decade. Since November 16, the Knicks are 13–1. 13–1! That's not going to happen over the next fourteen games, and even if the Knicks end up with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and vintage Wilt Chamberlain at the trading deadline, they're unlikely to have a stretch like that again for a while. It was one of those special things, sparked by an easy schedule and a talented team finally coming together, and we mustn't forget it. But now, as the Knicks start a grueling monthlong stretch, we must adjust expectations back down accordingly. What's the best-case scenario?

We say this of course not to extinguish the enthusiasm about this team: We'll be at the game tonight hoping to see something magical happen just like everyone else will. (And, frankly, we feel the pleasant start has somewhat vindicated our own boosterism about this franchise over the last season-plus.) But the Knicks still obviously have holes, still have improvements to be made, and those can't be patched over by a hot streak against the NBA's weaker stepchildren. It's about to get a lot tougher, and by that, we mean the Knicks are about to lose a lot of games. The question is how many.

So, let's take a look at the schedule from tonight until, oh, January 28.

December 15: vs. Boston
December 17: vs. Miami
December 18: at Cleveland
December 22: vs. Oklahoma City
December 25: vs. Chicago
December 28: at Miami
December 30: at Orlando
January 2: vs. Indiana
January 4: vs. San Antonio
January 7: at Phoenix
January 9: at L.A. Lakers
January 11: at Portland
January 12: at Utah
January 14: vs. Sacramento
January 17: vs. Phoenix
January 19: at Houston
January 21: at San Antonio
January 22: at Oklahoma City
January 24: vs. Washington
January 27: vs. Miami
January 28: at Atlanta

That is downright brutal. No matter how much we crunch the numbers, no matter how hard we try to give the Knicks the benefit of the proverbial doubt, no matter how much we try to give them wins even when they might not deserve them, we have them going 7–14 in that run. (Honestly, we're probably being nice, giving them home wins over Chicago and Phoenix.) It's just a cruel run, with two West Coast trips (we have them winning just one of those games, against Houston) and Eastern Conference road games against Orlando, Miami, and Atlanta. The only real positive of that stretch is that it ends, and it won't ever be that hard again.

This is the true value of the Knicks' 16–9 start: It allows them to go through what might be a wretched month and not completely collapse. After all, in our scenario, the Knicks will reach the midpoint (a little past, actually) of the season at 23–23. That might seem like a disappointment at this exact second, but it totally isn't. If you would have told us before the season — or, more specifically, on November 16, when they were 3–8 — that the Knicks would be at .500 at the season's midpoint, we'd have been ecstatic. A .500 season gets you in the playoffs, and that was the goal this season, wasn't it? The Knicks have already shown that there is something brewing, that they are not a disaster, that Mike D'Antoni and Donnie Walsh had some inkling of what they were doing all along. Considering the last decade of basketball, isn't that enough?

The future is up. We have gotten through the worst part. It is important to remember, as this stretch begins, that no matter how badly it goes, it can't be as bad as what we've been through. The Knicks have given us more excitement so far than we could have possibly expected. Here's hoping they've bought themselves a little more leeway, and time, to struggle again.

And for the record: If the Knicks can win either of these next two games, against Boston and Miami, two of the three best teams in the NBA, all bets are off. Then the world will have shifted even more than anyone could have possibly anticipated. The Garden is going to be rocking this evening and Friday evening. That, alone, is its own victory. A big one.

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Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images