The Knicks had plenty of built-in excuses coming into Sunday's matinee against Indiana.
They were coming off of a three-game, four-night road trip. They'd just played a back-to-back at San Antonio and Memphis -- one of the toughest back-to-backs in the NBA. And their flight back from Memphis didn't arrive in New York until early Saturday morning.
"Then to have an early game on top of getting in at 6 a.m.," Tyson Chandler said, "it was going to be tough."
Chandler admitted last season the Knicks may have let the game slip away.
But this year is different.
Through eight games, the Knicks have proved themselves to be a team that takes care of the basketball and plays defense as a unit -- two things that couldn't be said about last year's squad.
And those two characteristics allowed them to grind out a win on Sunday against Indiana.
"It’s definitely the maturity of the team and the maturity of the players," Chandler said after the Knicks improved to 7-1 with a 88-76 win over the Pacers. "We got a lot of vets that understand these games add up and these are the games at the end of the year, when you’re in that dogfight and you’re trying to jockey for position, are the games that put you over or under."
The Knicks got over on Sunday thanks in part to the 18 points they scored off of 19 Pacers turnovers. On the flip side, New York turned it over just eight times; they entered play Sunday averaging a league-low 10.8 turnovers per game.
Credit on Sunday went to Raymond Felton, who had eight assists and no turnovers. The Knicks outscored the Pacers by 11 points in Felton's 28 minutes.
"I take my hat off to Raymond," Carmelo Anthony said.
The Knicks shot just 36 percent from the floor, including 28 percent from beyond the arc. They held Indiana to 39 percent shooting, including an unsightly 3-for-16 in the second quarter.
Anthony and Chandler led the Knicks with nine rebounds each and helped hold Indiana to 30 first-half points.
"We’re talking. We’re communicating. Everybody is putting that effort out there," Anthony said of the Knicks on defense. "Nobody is worrying about getting beat. If somebody gets beat out there on the basketball court we’ve got guys who can take up for that and have each other’s back. When you have everybody on the same page it’s a good thing."
Credit, of course, goes to Mike Woodson. Woodson served as an assistant on Mike D'Antoni's staff last season and has changed the defensive culture of the team.
Buoyed by Chandler, the Knicks jumped into the top 10 in several key defensive categories last season, including points allowed per 100 possessions. And they've only gotten stingier so far this season, thanks to contributions from new additions like Ronnie Brewer and Felton.
Entering play Sunday, the Knicks ranked in the top 10 in opponent field goal percentage and points allowed per 100 possessions. And they are bound to climb a few spots after giving up just 76 points to Indiana.
"We're keeping our guys responsible and it's contagious," Chandler said. "(Woodson's) implementing principles that we're going to stand by for the rest of the year."