The Knicks lose to another contender, the Heat this time, and it shows that the Knicks are improved, but not elite. Not yet. Posted by Matt Moore
There are tiers in the NBA, and unlike the NFL and MLB, they are pretty solid. Moving from one tier to the next is difficult, and gets more difficult the higher you go. There are terrible teams, pretty bad teams, okay teams, good teams, and great teams. The past month has illustrated New York's move from pretty bad last season to good. The last two games have shown that they are not great. Not yet.
First it was a so-close-it-hurts loss to the Celtics. That allowed the Knicks to hold their head high, confident that they had arrived despite the tick mark in the "L" column. But against the Heat Friday night, it was a different matter. The Knicks were in the game. Fighting tooth and nail, using a spark of energy and a fiery home crowd to tie the game as the seconds ticked down ... and then the second half started.
As the Heat ran out to a 33-17 third quarter, the illusions of Knicks fans that this is a special team headed special places should have vanished. The Knicks simply aren't at that level. They almost beat the best team in the NBA at the moment on Wednesday night, but unfortunately, they didn't. And then the team with the highest ceiling in the NBA clocked them on Friday. Consider their place clearly established.
The Knicks are not an elite team in the NBA.
The Knicks will not be making the second round of the playoffs.
Amar'e Stoudemire is not the MVP... yet.
And those things are totally fine.
Now that I've tweaked the Knicks faithful about as far as I can, let me inform you that that doesn't mean the Knicks aren't on their way. They are. Pushing the Celtics did mean something for the franchise, as Ken Berger wrote about this week . But as the boos for LeBron James and his decision to snub the Knicks faded to indifference as the lead grew, the reality has set in. But that doesn't make the win streak the Knicks went on before this miniature murderer's row popped up on the schedule any less impressive. And it doesn't mean that Amar'e hasn't had the most impact on his team, taken over late, and generally destroyed most of the teams he's faced during this season.
The Knicks are free. Free of Isiah Thomas' constant downward spiral, free of constantly looking towards the time when they can begin to move forward, and free of the search for a franchise player. Amar'e Stoudemire most nights will stick you, jab-step you, jam on you, and generally destroy you inside. That the Heat were able to shut him down as effectively as they did (only 24 points and 14 rebounds) was either good fortune, exaustion, or just an excellent night of defense from a great defensive team in Miami (and they are a great defensive team). The Knicks have a stellar starting point guard (if not elite), a high-energy rookie whose making more people fall in love with his game than Christian Bale has, and Danilo Gallinari. They are on their way.
But they're not that far down the road, yet.
Overcoming the Heat's talent, Boston's depth, Orlando's firepower, and Chicago's dynamics will take a set of elements the Knicks aren't masters of yet. It's not just about individual experience, which Amar'e is stock-full of. It's about collective experience, unless you have a special collection of talent like Boston in 2008. They have to learn how to operate on the high gear in the playoffs, which is wholly different from the one in the regular season.
The Knicks were solved completely in the second half Friday, as LeBron James kicked into high-gear and showed New York just what it was missing . The point in all this is not to say that the Knicks aren't good, they are. But as is often the case with large market teams who show signs of life, the hard swing to the extreme is in effect. Knicks fans don't want to be good, they want to great. But that's a process, one that doesn't happen overnight with teams that are grown and not constructed (as in Boston, or Miami). And it will take time with New York. Maybe it will take Carmelo Anthony. Maybe it will take Chris Paul. Maybe it will take some unforseen event, and maybe that event will occur between now and the trade deadline, but if it doesn't, the Knicks have a ceiling. That ceiling was determined this week. It's a high ceiling, but a ceiling.
Consider that it was only June when the last of Isiah Thomas' terrible decisions was brought to fruition as the Utah Jazz selected Gordon Heyward with their 2010 NBA draft pick. In the six months since the draft, the Knicks have added a franchise player, given him a point guard to feed him, added some bench players, drafted a workhorse, and brought them together into a system which has netted them 16 wins and eleven losses, good enough for sixth best in the East. That's a remarkable transformation.
Everything won't come at once, and the evidence was laced in LeBron James' third quarter outpouring. The Knicks are on their way. But there are miles and miles to go before they pop champagne.