The Knicks get back on the court Wednesday for the first time since melting down against the Heat on Saturday night. The Hawks, fifth in the Eastern Conference, are in town, and it would behoove Mike D'Antoni and company to start winning some games if they actually want to make a playoff run this season.
Even if they don't get to the postseason, though, the Knicks have accomplished something pretty special this season. They've gotten people interested in a not very good basketball team with a record well under .500, no small feat in a city that punishes teams with far thicker resumes. Will Leitch of New York Magazine makes the argument that they're the most likable team in town.
The Yankees can’t make the back page without A-Rod, and all the Mets news is about the perilous health of Johan Santana. The Knicks are winning dunk contests, jumping over Biff Henderson on Letterman, hugging movie stars, and thrilling crowds even when they’re in the midst of a three-game losing streak. They’re even getting celebs courtside; Jeremy Piven might not show up on Broadway, but he’s showing up to Knicks games. And they’re 24–35! ... The Knicks have the feel of upstarts from Portland, or Kansas City, or Oakland. They lack the gloss and shimmer we usually require — that Masters of the Universe surety — and we love them for it. The Garden hasn’t been full every night; it takes a while for a decade of wounds to heal. But it has been vibrant and goofy, awash with fans gleefully reconnecting with an old friend.
He nailed it with reconnecting with an friend. It's like your pal has just come out of a relationship with someone you couldn't stand, and who was getting in the way of your friendship. You guys might see each other from time to time, but your friend was acting like someone completely different and you'd hear things from other people that just made you shake your head and wonder how something like this could happen.
You probably guessed that Isiah Thomas was the one going out with your friend in the orange and blue for the last few years, and it's amazing how the removal of one person can make so much difference. Obviously it helps that D'Antoni's style is conducive to attractive basketball, but things wouldn't be that much different if the Knicks were playing hard for Rick Carlisle. No Isiah meant that everyone was willing to try the Knicks on again and they remembered how much they liked their friend in the first place.
Now, as Leitch points out, this won't last. Another season of 30-odd wins and close losses is going to fray some of the reformed bonds, even if the team remains fun. This time next year, the LeBron/Wade/Melo/Bosh/Whoever hype is going to be fevered and that'll make it hard to focus on another middling team without much hope of a deep playoff run. Enjoy the ride for now, though, because it's been an enjoyable one.