The Nuggets, The Thunder, The Bulls.
The Knicks (and their fans) should look back at their wins against the above stated teams every time they suffer a loss to another contender.
Though the Knicks did fall victim to mighty Dwight Howard and the Magic (two nights after losing to the Heat for a second time this season) by a score of 112-103 last night, these losses are not coming without progress.
In addition to defeating different contenders this past month (which leads one to believe that while the Knicks are still losing to the better teams in the league, they are no longer doormats), they have looked like a tougher team than in years past in games against the Celtics, Heat (albeit one blowout loss), and now, the Magic.
Similar to the game against the Heat, the Magic went on a single major run early in the game that the Knicks simply could not catch up with. Furthermore, every time the Knicks got close, the Magic would further the gap once again.
Although the Knicks were up by ten points early in the first, foul trouble by Amar'e Stoudemire, missed free throws at the end of the game, and the dominating force down low that is Dwight Howard, all contributed to the loss in the end for the Knicks.
One interesting tidbit here--one of "Tommy Dee's 3 Keys" to the game was to "defend Howard one-on-one: Sounds crazy, but the Magic thrive on kick out threes from the post."
Ironically enough, the Knicks themselves should also thrive from Stoudemire kicking out passes to beyond the arc every time he is double-teamed. Instead, he becomes rather flustered at times, losing the ball due to the pressure, unable to get the ball out to an open teammate. Perhaps last night's trouble was due to being guarded by the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year, but that seems to have been a weakness of his all season long.
As he is hounded by the better defensive big men of the league, Stoudemire needs to keep his composure and get the ball to guys like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Shawne Williams.
Williams definitely had the "catch and shoot" threes from the corner working in his favor last night as usual, but Gallinari was not as effective. Chandler, trying to make up for Stoudemire's lost offense early on, got most of his points by driving to the hoop, as well as on pull up jumpers.
Nevertheless, the Knicks are staying competitive against other contenders (win or loss), so that's a positive. As long as they continue to beat up on the weaker teams of the league like they have been all season long, things will balance out in the win-loss column. You have got to like, however, the team's competitive nature now, because they will only be getting better in time for the playoffs.
Beating teams like the Nuggets, Thunder, and Bulls will absolutely gives the team confidence. That being said, the very close losses against the even better teams of the league only further solidifies that the Knicks are very much on their way to becoming a contender themselves.
The Knicks will look to start the new year off with a win as they welcome the Pacers to the Garden on Sunday afternoon.