What came in as a season full of questions, as left the Knicks with many answers.
The questions as to whether or not Melo and Amare and Chandler could get long, if the veterans could stay healthy, or if Anthony could get his head on straight are no longer relevant.
The Knicks enter today’s game vs. the Celtics – The #2 Seed.
At times it looked in question.
There was the long streak over the middle of the season where they just looked like an average team. There were all the injuries – Camby, Anthony, Stoudemire, Chandler, Kidd, Felton – almost any Knick you can name missed some time.
But the positives outscored the negatives.
Carmelo Anthony had his strongest season, edging out the Thunder’s Kevin Durant for the scoring title with 28.7 points per game, by moving to the 4 and becoming unstoppable underneath the basket.
The Ray Felton – Jason Kidd – Pablo Prigioni combination made each of them better.
They got some surprise from an old rookie named Chris Copeland – who stepped in during seven games this year and gave them over 20 points.
A combination of big guys some thought were retired were all able to contribute behind Chandler – from a little – Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace – to one that is still contributing today – Kenyon Martin.
Most importantly though, J.R. Smith finally got his head put on straight and was ready to fulfill the promise many thought he had coming out of high school in 2004.
Playing the most time in his career, 33:30 per game, J.R. Smith also had his strongest offensive season with a 18.1/5.3/2.7 line.
His defense improved, sticking with defenders and helping to cause havoc with Prigioni against bigger players.
Finally, he shot 36% from 3, which was not important. What was important was during the Knicks 13-game winning streak, and over the period Carmelo Anthony was injured, Smith realized he had to take advantage of his strong inside game to make this team better.
And it did. He got over 50% from the field in 9 of the 13 games of the streak.
With Amare still out, it is even more important to have some semblance of an inside game. J.R. Smith learning how to play inside – and out – was the key to the Knicks finally realizing their potential.
They enter Saturday’s 3 PM start against the Celtics looking to finally get past the first round for the first time since 2000. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will both be back and somewhat healthy. They are without Rajon Rondo, but that seemed to galvanize the team behind other guards.
On paper, this matchup is a Knicks win to most, but the Celtics are a veteran team with no fear. They know how to battle and beat you up. The Knicks will have to stay cool, not get into fisticuffs and stick to their normal plan.
If they can, they will be punching their expected ticket to the 2nd round. Something all in New York have been waiting a very long time for.