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D'Antoni, Knicks still climbing out of early hole

Expectations in sports can be a delicate thing. At one end of the spectrum the Knicks are sitting at a mediocre 9-9 record but hopes are high in the Big Apple. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat are 10-8, a game better than New York, but down on South Beach there’s nothing but rain clouds above.

Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni said that’s just the way things are in this business, especially when one team is in rebuilding mode, while the other was formed by the league’s version of the “Super Friends.”

D’Antoni has yet to really feel the heat in New York but understands why his counterpart, Erik Spoelstra, is already under the microscope.

“It’s all about managing expectations. When you think you’re going to win 70-80 games and [then you struggle early] they [critics] come out the woodworks,” said D’Antoni. “But they’re still a good team, they still have plenty of time to put it together, and they will. They’re too good not to.”

D’Antoni added he had his own set of expectations and initially struggled to jumpstart life into his team after a sluggish early November in which they lost six in a row.

“We’re fairly happy where we are but we could be better,” he said. “We’re still fighting out of the hole, too.”

The Knicks’ early plight could’ve been foreseen, especially after adding 10 new players to the roster. D’Antoni said it was a mixture of new guys pressing and also them not being up to speed with his uptempo attack.

“The season started off with high expectations and guys were a little tight and played a little conservative,” he said. “But with the newfound confidence, winning on the road, and learning the adjustments, guys are getting used to the system and it’s made guys step it up a lot.”

The current five-game road winning streak has been impressive despite the fact that none of the teams are over .500. But according to team president Donnie Walsh he’s more prideful over how his young team has handled the quirky scheduling than the actual wins. He said the real test will be how they react to success and how well they can play in front of the home crowd.

“We’ve been on the road a lot so far this month – about 17 or 18 games in one month – so that can kind of catch up to you,” he said. “I think that mentally when you’re on the road you have to be at your best and when you’re home, you might let down. But there’s a lot of reasons why that happens.”

Overall, Walsh has been pleased with the ascension of his team. The Knicks are on a 6-2 tear over the last eight games. And with only one team – the New Orleans Hornets -- with a winning record in the next six games, the Knicks are in prime position to gain serious ground in the conference.

Walsh just hopes his leaders continue their own upward swing. He added he isn’t concerned with living up to other people’s expectations either.

“I think when you’re winning on the road and not winning at home there’s going to be a lot of over-analyzing,” he said, adding his franchise players have done a great job of leading by example and not allowing doubt to seep in. “But the truth is that it’s been way beyond what I hoped for. Amar’e [Stoudemire] is a great player but he’s been even better in the way he conducts himself with the team and with the public. He’s a great pro. Raymond [Felton], too.”

If the Knicks are to keep it going – and flourish under the rising expectations – Walsh said the team needs to continue to grow collectively.

“I like what I’ve seen on TV and I think they’re grasping our style and playing better,” he said, stressing the importance of holding fort at home. “We have to also make this our home court because it’s one of the better home courts in the league and we must take advantage of it.”

 
 
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