The Long Awaited Return of Defense to Madison Square Garden

Three wins and counting for the Knicks

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    Monday night was anthropology night in Midtown.

    There was a group of five gentlemen wearing white uniforms trimmed in orange and blue working together in an effort to stop a group of men wearing red from throwing an orange ball through a hoop. They moved their feet, kept their hands up and, when one man would lose their opposing red player, provide help to ensure that the ball remained out of the hoop.

    There are those who have traveled far and wide in the United States who say that this is called "playing defense." It is apparently quite popular in places like Boston, Orlando and San Antonio. There are even a few white-bearded fellows with patches on the elbows of their tweed jackets who say that there was once a strong belief in defense here in New York, but one assumes that they've spent too much time in their ivory towers. These gentlemen in white, these Knicks, have been much studied over the last decade and there are no recorded instances of them playing defense before.

    Yes, Virginia, the Knicks played defense with gusto on Monday night and beat the Blazers 93-84 to run their winning streak to three games. The leader of the effort was Jared Jeffries, who kept sliding under Brandon Roy as Roy elevated to take shots. The ensuing contact threw Roy off his game and kept the Blazers offense in neutral until the Knicks had built a huge lead in the second half.

    Jeffries eventually fouled out, but his fouls were all good ones that forced players to hit foul shots instead of layups, something that fans who once cheered for the likes of Mason and Oakley can appreciate. And fans who remember Trent Tucker and the days of Rick Pitino's Bomb Squad can appreciate the way the Knicks hit 13 of 26 three-pointers to make up for an otherwise poor shooting night.

    That melding of ancient cultures is the latest reason to be excited about what's going on at the Garden right now. Mike D'Antoni has established a rotation which has, in turn, brought the team an identity that suits them at both ends of the floor. Scholars have long noted that a successful system is reliant on defined roles for all members of the tribe.

    For some reason, many watchers of the team are still obsessed with the fact that the Knicks no longer employ their dancing pygmy as part of the show. A savvy anthropologist would see that moving past sideshows and focusing on useful skills is a quantum leap forward for the evolution of the Knicks, however, and one that can keep going on Friday in New Orleans.   

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.