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Opening Tip: Reason for optimism in 2014

1/2/2014
Look on the bright side: Carmelo Anthony will be back in the lineup soon. Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2013 portion of the 2013-14 season was a tough one for the Knicks.

It seems everything that could go wrong did. From injuries to inexplicable mental errors, there are plenty of reasons why the Knicks will start 2014 a season-high 12 games below .500.

Believe it or not, though, there are a couple signs of optimism for the Knicks in this calendar year.

Here are five that we'd like to point out this morning:

1. The Return of Carmelo: Carmelo Anthony is expected to play Thursday against San Antonio after missing three games with a left-ankle injury. The Knicks have been a mess with Anthony out, going 0-3 and losing by an average of 18 points.

2. Titanic Division: The Atlantic Division is a disaster. Somehow, the Knicks (9-21) are just 5 1/2 games behind first-place Toronto. Many believe the Raptors are eventually going to tank to improve their position for the 2014 NBA draft. Same goes for Philadelphia. Boston is a wild card. It could continue to play for a playoff spot once Rajon Rondo comes back. And Brooklyn is just as bad (or worse) as the Knicks. So the division is still winnable.

3. Chandler's healthy: The Knicks aren't built to win without Tyson Chandler. They went 6-14 without him earlier this season, struggling mightily to keep opponents away from the rim.

A healthy Chandler at least gives New York a chance to defend the paint. With the 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year on the bench, the Knicks have been outscored by 8.5 points per 100 possessions. With Chandler on the floor, they are being outscored by 3.7 points per game. That may not seem like a huge margin, but those points can be the difference between a win and a loss in a one-possession game.

4. Timmy's time: The Knicks have found a gem in Tim Hardaway Jr. The former Michigan man has become a solid rotation member for Mike Woodson, averaging 16.7 points per 36 minutes (fourth-highest on the team). Hardaway also has the second-highest true shooting percentage on the team (a stat that takes into account free throws and the value of 3-pointers). Hardaway has work to do on the defensive end. But if he continues to progress, it could make Iman Shumpert expendable.

5. STAT starting to sizzle: Amar'e Stoudemire's shown signs of life in the past few weeks. In his past 10 games, Stoudemire is scoring 19.2 points per 36 minutes and shooting 57 percent from the field. That's two points off the pace he established last season. Stoudemire is also grabbing eight rebounds per 36 minutes in his past 10 games.

Of course, it always seems that the next knee issue is only a play away for the former All-Star. But if he can give the Knicks consistent points in the paint off the bench, it will help an offense that becomes stagnant for long stretches.

Up now: Anthony is probable for Thursday's game against the Spurs.

Metta World Peace (knee) and Pablo Prigioni (broken toe) are out and Raymond Felton (groin) is doubtful.

More on the Knicks without Carmelo Anthony.

Matt Ehalt takes a look at the Knicks' New Year's Resolutions.

What's next: The Knicks will play the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday in their first game of three straight road games in Texas. They play the Rockets on Friday and the Mavericks on Sunday.

Question: What are you optimistic for about the Knicks in 2014? Anything?

You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.