NEW YORK -- Standing in a hallway outside the visitor's locker room Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, about 25 minutes after his Bulls defeated the Knicks 103-90, Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau was singing the Knicks' praises -- not necessarily for how they played on Tuesday, but for how they've played of late, and how they could play going forward in the postseason.
"They're gonna be a dangerous team," Thibodeau said of the Knicks. "And if you look at the way they're playing right now, they're playing at a very high level, and that's without [Amare] Stoudemire."
The Knicks had won seven straight prior to this defeat, including the last two without Stoudemire, who is nursing a sprained left ankle. Stoudemire also missed Tuesday night's game, but is expected to be healthy and ready to go when the sixth-seeded Knicks take on the No. 3 Celtics in an Eastern Conference first-round series, starting this weekend in Boston.
Thibodeau knows that Celtics team well -- prior to taking the job with the Bulls last June, he served as the associate head coach with the Celtics for three seasons, helping them to two NBA Finals and a championship in 2008.
As fond as he is of those Celtics, Thibodeau gave the Knicks a fighting chance to pull the upset in the upcoming series.
"They've got three stars," Thibodeau said of the Knicks. "It comes down to -- most playoff games are gonna be the ability to get your three primary scorers better shots than your opponent can get their three primary scorers. So they have three primary scorers, as do the Celtics. So then it'll be how well you execute, who's healthy, and I think you've gotta be well-balanced too."
Thibodeau even went so far as to (gasp!) praise the Knicks' defense.
"The Knicks have come a long way," Thibodeau said. "Their defense is vastly improved. They're very unselfish. They play smart. [And] I think at the end of games, you have got a guy in [Chauncey] Billups, who's been in a lot of tight situations and can get things done."
The Knicks (42-39) took two of three this season from the Bulls, who will be the top seed in the East at 61-20. Yes, the two wins came in November and December -- long before the Carmelo Anthony trade. And the Bulls were missing a key player each time.
But the Knicks are dangerous -- just listen to the coach of the best team in the Eastern Conference.