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Wednesday night's 82-79 throwback to the 90s win over the 76ers was a sign of how far the Knicks have come in just five games under Mike Woodson.
The defense has been good all season, but the Knicks have raised things to another level under Woodson. Whether that's because of the new coach's much-ballyhooed accountability or because of the general "we try now that Mike D'Antoni is trimming his mustache somewhere else" isn't clear, but it doesn't much matter.
No longer does an inability to put the ball in the basket send the team into a tailspin that makes it impossible for them to win games. They are willing to keep working, keep defending and keep finding ways to win games even when their best players are struggling to make things happen.
The key now is for the Knicks to show that they can keep the same intensity level over the final 19 games of the season because the hole they dug for themselves is just deep enough that they can't afford to take any game less seriously than they took the game on Wednesday night. That need will loom large during their games on Friday and Saturday nights.
Friday night brings a trip to Toronto, a team the Knicks have already beaten once this week, and Saturday night brings the 16-30 Pistons to Madison Square Garden. These are not good teams, but they are NBA teams and that means the Knicks can't afford to look ahead to Monday's date with the Bucks (one game back for the eighth playoff spot) or Wednesday against the Magic.
We're not naive enough to believe that the Knicks are going to run the table for the rest of the season. There will be losses, but with a tough schedule the rest of the way the Knicks simply can't let any of those losses come against teams that they should beat.
That's what they've got this weekend and it's not like there aren't reasons for concerns despite the five-game winning streak that has them back on the doorstep of a winning record. Jared Jeffries, who has been a crucial part of the rotation, is out after injuring his knee in Philly and Carmelo Anthony's increased willingness to play the entire game doesn't totally overshadow the fact that he isn't scoring nearly well enough.
As nice as it is to see Anthony playing defense and moving the ball as part of a cohesive offensive attack, the fact that he's completely lost his ability to put the ball into the basket is more than a little worrisome. The injuries have to be part of why his game has dropped so considerably, but there's gonna be a night where they need the old Melo and it's fair to wonder if he's in there right now.
On the flip side, they aren't dealing with their two biggest scorers being cold at the same time anymore. Amar'e Stoudemire's resurgence has been a very welcome development and one that seems sustainable based on how much his current play resembles that of the player who we've seen in the past.
As much as the defense and Stoudemire have been keys to the rebound, the most promising bit of business has been the fact that the demise of Jeremy Lin has turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Instead of falling to pieces without D'Antoni, Lin actually seems to be improving now that he's running an offense that involves everyone on the floor and he's stopped playing with the recklessness that D'Antoni seemed to enjoy more than anybody else.
He's still a work in progress, obviously, but the progress keeps coming. Lin could have easily folded after a brutal first three quarters in Philly, but he came up with a strong fourth quarter that the Knicks needed to secure one of their best, if not their best, win of the entire season.
The pieces are all in place for the Knicks to make their move. They just need to keep their eyes on the prize every time they take the court.