To start off the year, the Knicks began dominating the competition as they came away with command victories.
The team's strong start has seen its bumps along the road, but the fact of the matter is New York has been more consistent than they have been in past seasons.
The victories may not be coming as easy as of late, but the key has been the team's ability to keep the pace and stay within striking distance in just about every contest.
And that's exactly what the team did on Wednesday night. Originally, the Knicks had looked at the evening's matchup with the Bobcats as nothing more than a tune-up for Thursday's battle with the Heat. If New York was able to put Charlotte away early, Coach Mike Woodson could rest his key players enough in time for the game in Miami the following night.
But the Bobcats had other plans. The young, gritty team that has shown tremendous promise under new coach Mike Dunlap gave the Knicks a run for their money. Charlotte's high energy on the defensive end frustrated New York early through the contest, causing the Knicks to fire bombs away from all cylinders as they hoped a few would eventually fall. This never happened enough for New York to pull away with a steady enough lead.
Instead, the Bobcats kept double-teamming Carmelo Anthony and kept the Knicks at bay. New York came slowly surging back in the game's final period, led largely by the returning Jason Kidd. The veteran's impact was immediate and evident as he helped his team maintain a certain tempo on offense with the game nearing a close.
With Kidd helping turn the momentum in the Knicks' favor, the team hustled and gunned to take over the lead. Elevating his own effort, Anthony leaped over New York's bench for a loose ball. The forward cut his finger and later required stitches, furthermore making him questionable for the Knickerbockers' battle with the Heat.
But even with Anthony back in the locker room, the Knicks still had a game to win. Inspired by Anthony's heroic leap to keep a possession alive, the rest of his teammates followed suit. Putting the pressure on Charlotte, the Knicks forced a five-second violation and got the ball back in time for one final possession.
With Anthony out, the team was in need of someone to rise up as the hero. Though J.R. Smith struggled to knock down shots all game long, his fearlessness (no matter the situation or scenario) warranted Coach Woodson to call on him one more time.
And that's when he delivered. Sinking an eighteen-foot jumper with a hand in his face, Smith subsequently also sunk the Bobcats' chances of winning the game. The Knicks improved to 13-4 on the season.
On Thursday night, the Knicks will stroll into Miami a bit exhausted, but nevertheless with the momentum clearly in their favor after an exciting win. It'll be interesting to see Anthony is in uniform to join them, but should he not be, it'll undoubtedly be the team's ongoing resilience that will help them keep the pace against the Heat without him.