This Knicks team, 36-30, the seventh seed, is like a mirror image of the one 13 years ago that entered the playoffs as the eighth seed at 27-23.
While both their records were around .500, they finished strong to end the regular season. While this season's squad went 18-6 under Mike Woodson, who took over for Mike D'Antoni on March 14, the 1999 team won six of their last eight games under Jeff Van Gundy.
That's something former Knick Marcus Camby, who started at center in the '99 Finals against the Spurs (replacing Patrick Ewing who had a partially torn Achilles tendon), remembers very well. His guys just fell short, losing 4-1 on basketball's biggest stage.
"I just think that magical run started with us being the eighth seed and making it all the way to the Finals," Camby, who completed the 2011-12 season with the Rockets, told ESPNNewYork.com on Thursday. "We didn't have a pretty good regular season, but I felt we got hot at the right time towards the end of the season and on to the playoffs. We lost Patrick Ewing during the playoffs and guys really had to step up and I think we did that, and it just felt great how the way the city embraced us and definitely welcomed us."
While it was only Camby's first postseason appearance in '99, he made a significant impact on the Knicks' playoff run that year, averaging 10.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 20 games -- numbers eerily similar to Tyson Chandler, the team's starting center, this season. Chandler averaged 11.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 62 games (all starts).
"I think Tyson is definitely one of the better defenders we have in this league," Camby said. "He's a guy who has a lot of great size, covers a lot of ground and erases a lot of his teammates' mistakes with his shot-blocking ability and his rebounding ability, and also just clogging up the middle."
Both Cs where defensive anchors for their respective teams.
"Definitely there are similarities in our games," Camby said. "It's the way we cover a lot of ground, the way we block shots -- but not just block shots, but also alter shots and be that physical presence down low that teams need. I think he has a lot of similarities between a lot of guys now and a lot of guys before him, but I'm sure he wants to pave his own way. He's been doing things his own way. He's a former NBA champion and I think his game is speaking volumes."
Camby said Chandler should definitely be a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
"Just considering his body of work," he said, "including last year with the Dallas Mavericks and being a catalyst to that defense that propelled them to the NBA championship. And he's doing a terrific job this year again."
Reflecting on his time in New York, Camby said his favorite memory was playing at Madison Square Garden, especially during the playoffs.
"I think there are no fans like New York fans," he said. "They know the game of basketball. You can't fool those guys about anything. When you're playing bad, they let you know about it. So I have a lot of respect for those fans."
That Garden experience is one of the main reasons Baron Davis signed up to be a Knick in December. He always dreamed of playing at the world's most famous arena. He remembers how loud it was playing in Golden State during his team's 2007 playoff run -- when the eighth-seeded Warriors upset the Mavericks in the first round -- but he's expecting the decibel level to be much, much higher once the series shifts to New York next Thursday.
"I think the Garden crowd is 10 times louder [than the Oracle Arena], just the energy in the Garden alone," Davis said before the Bobcats game Thursday night. "It just makes the atmosphere so climatic, so imagine a playoff game."
Especially against the Heat, the team those Knicks upset in the first round in '99. History is on this team's side, but can they take it a step further and win the championship, which would be their first in 39 years?
It all starts in just 24 hours.
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