Camby is a boost vs. Heat, top teams

It's a good thing the Knicks went out of their way to recruit Marcus Camby.

In early July, the backup center had narrowed his suitors down to the Knicks and Heat, and he was about to hop on a plane for Miami to meet with Pat Riley when the Knicks' top brass traveled to Houston.

"Honestly, I was going on a plane to Miami when Allan and Glen and Woody came down to Houston," he said. "So that's how close I was."

It not only gave the Knicks the edge to finalize a sign-and-trade with the Rockets, but it also gave them another key defensive advantage to challenge the Heat and Celtics, and the Western Conference's top two teams, the Lakers and Thunder.

Mike Woodson will be able to call on a former Defensive Player of the Year to replace Tyson Chandler, who currently holds the title. Woody could even play them side-by-side as Camby, like Chandler, is versatile enough to guard stretch 4s and even some 3s because of his length and quickness.

When the Knicks face the Heat, featuring the always artfully attacking LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, they'll need as many wits, skills and long arms as they can in the paint. That's what Chandler and Camby provide. Chandler alone did a great job of altering James and Wade's interior shots in 2011, as well as luring them into offensive fouls, which helped the Mavericks win their first championship. Now, Chandler has the help of Camby, and that's a promising sign.

"Hopefully the guys on the perimeter can keep those guys from getting into the paint," Camby said after Thursday's practice. "But those guys have trust in us as teammates that we're going to have their back to protect the basket."

Then, when the Knicks face off with either the Lakers or Thunder -- one of the two being the most likely West Finals representative -- they'll have to deal with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, or Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, respectively. That's why it's a nice luxury to have both Chandler and Camby around, especially if either gets into trouble.

Hopefully Camby, who turns 39 in March, will be healthy come May and June.

That durability factor is especially important for the Knicks, as half the roster, including Camby, is over the age of 30. But coach Mike Woodson is working with a deeper talent pool than last season, and he could play six guys off the bench to prevent the veteran players from overextending themselves.

"I think we're deeper this year than we were last year, and there were times I played nine and 10 guys," the coach said. "Sometimes in the early stretch, we were playing 11, 12 guys because we had some lopsided ballgames. So my job is to try to manage and make sure that whoever plays, you make it the most productive minutes you play when you step on that floor."

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