In the midst of putting their version of an AARP squad together to complement the greatness of Carmelo Anthony and the mercurial tendencies of J.R. Smith, the New York Knicks have been swearing they are no flukes, that their pursuit of an NBA championship is legitimate. Yet, they never really gave anyone a reason to believe them.
Following injury after injury and the kind of roller-coaster ride that would put Six Flags to shame, a semblance of continuity has reared its head, showcasing a Knicks squad we've now grown to expect will make noise once the playoffs roll around. And guess what?
They didn't lie to us, after all.
Following Sunday's 125-120 victory in Oklahoma City, the news about the Knicks is this: The Eastern Conference chase to the NBA Finals has officially become a two-team race.
Gotham City versus South Beach.
"I've said repeatedly that I think if we're healthy and playing basketball the way we're capable of playing, that we can beat anybody," Knicks coach Mike Woodson, whose team has won 12 straight, said Monday.
"I'm proud of my guys. I'm proud of the way we're playing. We're finding ways to win ballgames and that's what you've got to do when you're pursuing a championship. It's not going to be easy, but we're going for it."
The Knicks looked fabulous on offense in their victory over Oklahoma City, the reigning Western Conference champion. They played tough, hard, gutsy and, dare we say, disciplined, especially when it mattered most.
Courtesy of 36 points from Melo and 55 from the bench, the Knicks were able to stare down big games from Russell Westbrook (37 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists) and Kevin Durant (27 points) and say So what? We'll find a way to beat you anyway.
During their winning streak, the Knicks have shot an impressive 41 percent on 3-pointers and committed just 12 turnovers per game (second only to Chicago). Only two teams have allowed fewer fast-break points (10) than the Knicks during the streak, and only three teams in the league have forced more turnovers per game (16).
Smith has averaged 23.8 points on 49 percent shooting during the streak, virtually guaranteeing him the NBA Sixth Man Award. Iman Shumpert and Chris Copeland are hitting 3-pointers. And Melo is averaging 41.8 points in four games since the calendar flipped to April, positioning himself as the league's scoring leader by a slim margin over Durant.
"We were always convinced we were a good team," Melo told reporters on Sunday. "We can't worry about what people think. A win is a win."
Not exactly! Defeating Durant and Westbrook is a bigger deal than beating Sacramento or Charlotte.
Yet, in the end it's all about the Knicks right now. About Melo finishing in the top three for league MVP honors and making sure he isn't bounced out of the first round of the playoffs yet again. It's about Smith attacking the basket with the same vigor he uses to launch long-range shots.
It's about Tyson Chandler getting healthier, about Kenyon Martin simply getting healthy. It's about Raymond Felton continuing to elevate his play at the best time imaginable, and about Jason Kidd continuing to provide the right kind of leadership at the most opportune times.
"I've told you several times, I believe in this team," Melo told me recently. "I believe in our talent. Our commitment. But we believe in each other, and that's the most important thing. We know what our goals are, what we intend to do. But even though we know how tough it'll be, there's no doubt in our mind that we can pull it off."
Melo was talking a conference championship over LeBron, D-Wade and the crew, and then some. He wasn't talking about the Atlantic Division crown the Knicks will probably grab Tuesday night with a win over the Washington Wizards at the Garden.
"Hey, we've got to start somewhere, right?" Woodson deadpanned, no doubt alluding to the fact that New York hasn't delivered a division crown since 1994.
No time like the present.