So, sorry, folks, but it looks like we're going to be going back through this again. As we talked about on Friday, the Knicks have gone through so many different permutations in this season alone that it's enough to give fans whiplash, or vertigo, or some combination of both. After coach Mike D'Antoni resigned following a six-game losing streak and an endless battle with star player Carmelo Anthony, it was reasonable to assume doom and/or gloom, with a chaos-riddled team in legitimate danger of missing the playoffs altogether. So then the Knicks went out and served up a blowout in three straight games. Whatever, Knicks.
The rout over the collapsing Blazers on Wednesday didn't prove much, but there's something to be said about the two breezy wins over fifth-in-the-conference Indiana on Friday and Saturday. The most impressive win was actually Saturday, the second half of a home-and-home, against an inspired team that had been humiliated the night before. In the locker room after Friday's win, the prevailing mood was that that win didn't matter if they didn't come out and repeat the feat the next night. Doggoned if the Knicks didn't just go out and do it. The reason for this streak has been the defense, which is starting to play like it did during Linsanity. (As giddy as Linsanity was, the Knicks won most of those games because of the defensive dominance of Jared Jeffries, Tyson Chandler, and Iman Shumpert.)
The Knicks' defense has been porous again since the returns of Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, evidenced by an amusingly crazed YouTube poster named "AtBallsDeep," who has devoted an entire channel to Stoudemire's defensive missteps. Here's a fun one called "Amar'e disgusting transition defense."
Yeah, yikes. But it's been undeniable that the Knicks have shown greater energy on defense since D'Antoni's firing, and we suspect it has less to do with D'Antoni not concentrating on that part of the game (D'Antoni's supposed disinterest in defense has always been overstated) and more to do with the sudden, mysterious surge of defensive intensity from Carmelo. The issue with Carmelo's defense throughout his career has never been one of talent or ability; it has been of desire. He always could defend, he just sometimes didn't. But you're seeing him a lot more active. It makes a difference. Everybody's got a little more pep in their step; as Jeremy Lin (who is starting to look terrific again) said Friday, "I've known every screen that's been coming pretty much in the last two games. I've heard it from the big men. They're calling it out. They're active, so it's very collective right now and when that's going, it's scary." One wishes they had always been calling out screens for Lin, but hey, whatever works.
Anyway, the Knicks have won three in a row and have another critical stretch this week. (The Knicks only play one more game against the Western Conference the rest of the season.) They'll play the Raptors twice, home against Detroit and on the road against Philadelphia. A 3–1 stretch is very possible, even likely. But ... deep breath ... let's dial back a moment.
Let's all agree — and we're definitely including ourselves in this — not to start firing ourselves up about anything until they at least get over .500. Is that a deal? Let's make that the benchmark. The Knicks didn't even make it over .500 during Linsanity. They haven't been over .500 since January 12. They're three under right now. Let's get there first, so they can then lose three in a row and make us go through all this some more.