It's Prove-It Week for the Knicks

California swing gives Knicks chance to make good on lofty predictions

By Josh Alper
|  Wednesday, Dec 28, 2011  |  Updated 11:32 AM EDT
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It's Prove-It Week for the Knicks

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The Knicks have a big opportunity in their grasp this week.

There are more pleasant ways to start an NBA season than to find yourself on the West Coast for three games in the season's first week.

But the schedule makers might have done the Knicks a solid by sending them to California right off the bat. It will be their only trip farther than Texas in the entirety of this condensed season and the three teams on the slate offer them a chance to send a serious message to the rest of the league right away.

The Golden State Warriors are learning to play under new coach Mark Jackson's defensive focus with a roster ill-suited to the task, the Lakers will be playing their fourth game in five nights with a very thin team that no longer has Phil Jackson pushing the buttons and the Sacramento Kings simply aren't a very good team. The Knicks might be and finding wins during a week like this is the best way to prove it.

No one expects things to work perfectly for the Knicks at this point in the season. They are turning over rocks to find guards who can hold down the fort -- say hello to Jeremy Lin -- and they still need their frontline to jell.

The Knicks need to rebound better, they need to defend point guards better and they need to do 100 other things better than they did against Boston. On top of all that, despite the teams on the docket, playing three road games in four nights qualifies as a difficult hand.

That said, these Knicks have made it quite clear that they plan to be contenders right now and that means that you don't get to just take a mulligan because you're playing in a different time zone. These are three beatable teams staring them in the face and teams with designs on doing more than eking into the back of the playoff pack don't let those wins get away from them.

Now, it must be said that a disappointing road trip won't sink any chances the Knicks have of competing at a high level this season. There's a lot of basketball to be played, even in this shrunken season of David Stern's design.

But this is their first chance to prove that talking about championships wasn't just a sign that Rex Ryan is contagious. Beating Boston was a good start and these three games can turn a blip into a trend.

It has only been one game, but there were some promising signs about their ability to make good on bold predictions in that game. Running the offense through Carmelo Anthony offered tons of possibilities that could make the lack of a true point guard less of an issue in the weeks to come.

Anthony thrived both as a facilitator in the pick-and-roll during a first half that saw the Knicks race out to a big lead over the Celtics. And when things got tight, it was as simple as isolating Anthony and letting him get points from the floor or the line.

They can't just ride Anthony they way they did in the fourth quarter on Christmas Day, but his presence will keep defenses from feeling comfortable and allow the Knicks to consistently exploit vulnerabilities. Exploit enough of them on this road trip and the Knicks will start 2012 with plenty of reasons to think that it can be a special year.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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