Commentary

Don't crown the Knicks just yet

New York is good, no doubt -- but now we'll see how formidable this team really is

Updated: November 17, 2012, 7:44 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

Thank goodness it's over!

The wins. The unblemished record. The temptation of too many to invoke selective amnesia just because the New York Knicks finally decided to impersonate a winning franchise out the blocks instead of waiting for meaningless games in March or April to fool everyone.

[+] EnlargeMike Woodson
Debby Wong/US PresswireWhile Mike Woodson knows he has a good team, he admits the Knicks still have much to learn.

The Knicks lost their first game of the season Friday night, a 105-95 beatdown by the Memphis Grizzlies. They lost to a team accustomed to playing together, one with better chemistry and boasting a frontline anchored by Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph -- and to a team now in possession of the best record in the NBA.

Consider this a good thing.

Now that the Knicks have proved to be fallible again, we can all get back to judging how legitimate this team really is -- whether it consists of more than just Carmelo Anthony and a bunch of parts that have no chance of lasting and whether the Knicks are bona fide enough to be among the teams capable of challenging the Miami Heat for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.

"I've said it many times. I believe in this team," Knicks coach Mike Woodson told ESPNNewYork.com before the Knicks went to San Antonio. "We'll continue to learn more about ourselves as the season progresses, but it won't be about whether or not we're good. We already know that much about ourselves."

So should the rest of us. That much cannot be argued at the moment.

Despite yielding a 23-7 run and getting into a 21-point hole before losing to Memphis, that doesn't negate the fact that the Knicks (6-1) are much improved. They are third in the NBA offensively, scoring more than 102 points per game, and fourth defensively, surrendering just 92 points per game. Their fluidity on offense and unselfishness with the ball has them second in the league with 41.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc, rendering thoughts of yet another first-round exit obsolete.

"We've got a chance this year," guard Jason Kidd has said on several occasions. "We've got a chance."

Of course the Knicks have a chance to make significant noise this season if J.R. Smith continues to shoot better than 63 percent from 3-point range, if Kidd hits from there at a 57 percent clip and if Ronnie Brewer makes 44 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Couple all that with Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert eventually returning from their knee injuries on schedule and there's every reason to believe the Knicks are as formidable as they appear.

Except everything we saw in Memphis on Friday night tells a more vivid story.

Clearly undersized, in height and girth, the Knicks had an undersized Anthony try to defend Randolph. The slim Tyson Chandler futilely attempted to brush bodies against the burly Gasol before the aging Rasheed Wallace tried his hand.

It wasn't an accident that Anthony and Chandler found themselves in foul trouble, that both of them were dished technicals, along with Wallace and Woodson -- all within a four-minute span, when the Knicks were outscored 19-1 -- or that the Knicks were completely off their game. The Grizzlies bullied them off it, revealing New York's physical inferiority before a nationally televised audience.

Oops! Forgot to mention that the Knicks lost in the rebounding department for the seventh time in seven games.

"I don't think we lost our composure," Woodson said after the game. "Our guys are competitors. They want to win. We were on a six-game winning streak. We didn't want to see it end, but it did. Now we have to start another winning streak."

The Knicks will need to continue doing what they've been doing to pull that off, plus a little bit more.

It means Woodson needs to continue coaching the way he has coached and Melo needs to keep playing the way that he's been playing, albeit with a better shooting percentage. It means everyone else -- Smith, Chandler, Kidd, Wallace and beyond -- needs to continue trusting one another and sharing the basketball instead of reverting back to one-on-one play, launching 2-pointers right in front of the 3-point line and playing the kind of unintelligent ball that has sent them home before the month of May for the past decade.

"We lost by 10, but we gave it a hard effort," Wallace said. "Now we have to go back to the drawing board. They played a good game. Hats off to the Grizzlies. But I just have to say one thing: They still have to come back to the Garden."

Profound words, even in their simplicity. A fight awaits for anyone who dares step into Madison Square Garden, because the days of perpetually pushing the Knicks around are over.

Love it, but ...

We'll see.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."

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