NEW YORK (AP) — This is how the New York Knicks used to play, before the franchise tumbled into mediocrity and misery.
The superstar wants to be more than just a scorer. The role players are committed to being good defenders and better teammates. The old guys play the game with an old-school mentality. The coach holds everyone accountable for stopping his man, no matter who he is.
Yes, these Knicks are doing everything it takes to be a contender.
"We're playing for something, guys," coach Mike Woodson said. "We're trying to stay at the top, we're trying to win our division, and host first round at home."
The Knicks used to have similar lofty goals, but that was long ago. Expectations had fallen so low that when the Knicks finally won a playoff game last spring, snapping an NBA-record, 13-game postseason losing streak that lasted more than a decade, streamers rained down from the Madison Square Garden rafters as if they were celebrating a championship, instead of just avoiding a sweep in a first-round series.
Miami eliminated New York a couple of nights later, and the Knicks spent the offseason building a team they felt could compete with the Heat on the court, even if not in the headlines and highlights.
Woodson was given the job full-time after replacing Mike D'Antoni on an interim basis last March. He told Carmelo Anthony to come back in better shape, sent Amare Stoudemire out to expand his game, and asked for veteran players to fill the numerous holes that were on the roster.
The Knicks were ridiculed when they assembled the oldest team in NBA history, adding players such as Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas before Woodson lured the 38-year-old Rasheed Wallace out of a two-year retirement. But look around the locker room, Wallace said Sunday following an 88-76 victory over Indiana. Tyson Chandler and Camby have been Defensive Players of the Year, defense has always been Woodson's specialty and some of the newcomers' strength, so apparently the Knicks knew what they were doing.
"It's just a matter of time before everyone buys into it, and once we all do, it's going to be hellacious," Wallace said.
At 7-1, the Knicks are off to their best start since winning their first seven games of the 1993-94 season. The 1990s Knicks were beloved in New York, a rugged team built around Patrick Ewing that worked its way toward the top one defensive stop at a time.
But the Knicks got away from that under Isiah Thomas, who kept adding scorers such as Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis and Eddy Curry while never grasping how to build a team. Former president Donnie Walsh and D'Antoni cleaned up the mess, but neither stayed long enough to finish the job, and D'Antoni and Anthony couldn't make things work last season before the coach resigned.