The Knicks are set to be the sacrificial lamb for the Cleveland Cavaliers, tonight, as the NBA season tips off and the defending champs get set to receive their rings.
But if history matters, the Cavs are in for a tough battle against a revamped Knicks squad that has its eyes set on making noise in the Eastern Conference. Traditionally, the defending champs have a tough start in the opener, due to the pomp and circumstance and emotions of ring presentation night. Plus, a Carmelo Anthony-led team historically gives a LeBron James-led team fits anytime they match up. Anthony has always been one of the few small forwards who can match James in strength and intensity, which should make for a great tilt, tonight -- and for the season going forward.
Once the Knicks get past tonight’s matchup, they’ll set their long-term focus on trying to unseat the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics for Atlantic Division supremacy. Phil Jackson has constructed his most talented roster since being named team president in 2014, so the pressure is now on him to see this revamped roster perform and give the Garden faithful something to finally be proud of again.
Outside of staying healthy, the main catalyst for a Knicks’ revival lands at the feet of Anthony. The perennial All-Star has finally been bestowed a true penetrating point guard in Derrick Rose, who will be able to get him easier looks – health withstanding, of course. It’s been a few years since Anthony had that luxury. Knicks fans may need to hearken back to the Chauncey Billups (2010-11) and Jason Kidd (2012-13) years to find a true point guard who commanded Anthony’s respect and was able to keep the offense flowing.
Rose can be that guy if all goes right physically. The former league MVP said he thinks he can get back to elite status, deeming it’s “only a matter of time until I put it together.” He added he “won’t be surprised” when he and the team put it all together.
The Knicks enter this season as one of the more intriguing storylines. They’re not as good as the league’s “Big 3” of the Cavs, Golden State Warriors, and San Antonio Spurs. And they’re probably not on par with the Raptors, Celtics, and Indiana Pacers. But if all things check out, they could be that pesky, sneaky-good team that’s a tough out in the playoffs – along the lines of the Miami Heat, Portland Trail Blazers, and Memphis Grizzlies.
Rose’s backcourt mate will be Courtney Lee, who will also be making his debut, tonight. That backcourt will team with forwards Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, and free-agent addition center Joakim Noah to form a potentially explosive frontcourt. The bench will be comprised of youth and inexperience, with point guard Brandon Jennings leading the way. Jennings, who famously campaigned for the Knicks to draft him back in 2009, is finally playing in New York, but is coming off Achilles surgery, so it’ll be interesting to see how he and all the new parts gel.
But after three-straight seasons of missing the playoffs, thirsty Knicks fans should be a little patient as the team figures out its identity – to Triangle or not to Triangle – a new head coach in Jeff Hornacek, and a roster that has nine new faces.
Anthony is straddling the line between optimism and caution.
“Everything looks good now on paper,’’ Anthony said. “But it’s not until we get on the court and start putting things together and seeing who fits with who and how it fits in.”
However Hornacek decides to fit his uptempo philosophy with Jackson’s outdated system, Rose said the offense will be a “pick your poison” attack, considering who he has on the outside to knock down jumpers (Anthony, Porzingis, and Lee) and a battering ram of a center who is tremendous in the pick-and-roll (Noah).
There’s no consensus that the Knicks will be a legitimate conference threat, let alone a league threat, but at the very least, they’ll dramatically improve on last season’s 32-win campaign. Rose is obviously biased, but he reasoned that these Knicks are poised for a breakout season.
“I’m very excited [because] we got a lot of great pieces,” Rose said following Monday’s practice. “I think so [being a playoff team], but it’s going to take us going out there and playing. I can sit here and say this and that, but doing it is more important.’’
They’ll get that chance tonight to start to show that they belong, before enduring a three-game stretch which features teams that made the playoffs last season.
-Depending on the sports book, the Knicks have been given odds of winning the title between 100-1, 60-1, and in some places even 20-1.
-The Knicks begin their 70th season – and will have the ignominy of seeing a couple of former Knicks castoffs receive their rings: J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.
-Jackson has 13 rings, 11 as a coach and two as a Knicks player, but is still searching for his first playoff berth as upper management.