The New York Knicks are the only undefeated team in the NBA. Who are these Knicks?
1) Carmelo Anthony, the league’s most perenially unsuccessful All-Star;
2) J.R. Smith, a streak shooter who is the basketball equivalent of Russian Roulette;
3) Steve Novak, who, if he weren’t 6’10”, would remind you of your girlfriend’s genial older brother, a bank manager in Ohio;
and 5) a whole mess of old dudes.
The Knicks right now feature six rotation players — Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby, and Kurt Thomas — whose average age is 53. Which is remarkable considering none of them are actually older than 40; it’s just that the Knicks are so old that they cripple conventional mathematics. (Those guys’ average age in reality is 37. Which is still a lot.)
And yet, the Knicks have won five games and lost zero — one fewer than the Grizzlies and the Spurs; two fewer than the Nets and the Clippers; three fewer than Heat and the Thunder; and five fewer than the Lakers, a team that rosters both Ares the God of War and 19th-century abolitionist John Brown. In a twist anticipated by no one, the Knicks — the big-city team, the celebrity-fan glamor team — have become better than they’ve been in years by harnessing the power of middle-aged wisdom. As the Lakers’ coaching carousel and Dwight Howard antics dominate the headlines, this is probably the quietest five-game Knicks winning streak in the last three years. (Can you imagine the pandemonium if they were doing this WITH Jeremy Lin? You don’t have to: they did last year, and it consumed the world.) They are the spirit of an erectile-dysfunction ad channeled into a basketball team: laid-back, kind of goofy, and hard to take seriously — but always, in the end, effective.
Saddled with bad knees and full figures — Rasheed Wallace in particular entered training camp as though he’d been transported there by a Carnival Cruise — it seems incomprehensible that the team could keep pace with, for example, a Miami Heat squad made up mostly of players who appear to have been carved from Egyptian obelisks. Even Carmelo Anthony, who at 27 is one of the Knicks’ sprightlier youngsters, looks physically smudged, like the artist who drew him had to leave before he could finish. And these guys SMOKED the Heat on opening night. It wasn’t even close.
What these Knicks are is efficient. They can’t run around all crazy like they used to, but hey, that’s not going to stop them from getting the job done. They play defense, they take good shots and make them at a high rate, and they take care of the ball. Their turnover differential is best in the league at -7.6, meaning that they force 7.6 more turnovers a game than they surrender; second place are the Raptors and the Hawks, at -3.6. They have all the glamour of a couple in parallel bathtubs watching the sun set over wine country, and about as much appeal to a viewing audience that doesn’t have an immediate need for their product. (Cialis users = Knicks fans.)
Will the Knicks keep up this pace? No! J.R. Smith will not continue to make 72% of his three-pointers, and Jason Kidd won’t maintain a 22.8 PER. But is it reasonable to think that they could be a long-shot Finals contender? That, especially with the return of Iman Shumpert, they could continue to combine a top-five defense and a top-ten offense? That they could compete for the NBA championship, and that Carmelo Anthony could finish the season in the MVP discussion? It’s possible, just like anything else in our age of miracles.
Their run may well end tonight at the hands of the formidable Spurs, but New York represents a defiance of age in a sports world — GMs would be putting 17-year-olds on their rosters if the league allowed it — where veterans, with their higher salary demands and injury-prone bodies, are often considered a sucker’s investment. But hey: when you’re on a winning streak, might as well enjoy it. Let’s all pull our side-by-side bathtubs up to a nice sunset over northern California and raise our glasses of merlot to the Knicks.