Knicks hoping to take that next step this season and contend for title

Carmelo Anthony and Mike Woodson look on during Carmelo Anthony and Mike Woodson look on during a game against the Charlotte Bobcats at Madison Square Garden. (Oct. 25, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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A new banner hangs inside Madison Square Garden that symbolizes progress for the Knicks, but not greatness. They hope they can raise that one next fall.

The Knicks had a breakthrough last season, going 54-28, earning the Atlantic Division title for the first time since 1994 and winning a playoff series for the first time since 2000. Unless they go much further this season and win their first NBA title since 1973, many Knicks will consider this a lost year.

"I'm a believer in there's one winner and everyone else loses," said Tyson Chandler, a champion with the Mavericks in 2011. "That's where I am in my career. I shared that with the guys. I feel like we got to take the next step. We want to be the guys celebrating at the end of the year. If not, you lost.

"It was great to get past some things and I really felt like the organization is moving in the right direction. Me personally, I want more. I have bigger expectations."

Winning a championship -- or at least competing for one -- might be the Knicks' best way to keep Carmelo Anthony, who has said he will opt out of his contract and become a free agent July 1. But Anthony also said he thinks this could be a banner year for the Knicks.

"There's something about this team I feel is a little bit better than last year's team," he said. "With the guys that we have on this team, I feel we can do something special. We just got to put it all together.''

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Expectations are high inside the fully transformed Garden. But outside of it, there is plenty of doubt whether the Knicks have been transformed enough to beat the two-time reigning champion Miami Heat, the improved Bulls -- who have Derrick Rose back -- the Pacers and the totally revamped Nets.

But compared to last year, when the Knicks added four players who were at least 38, they went young this past offseason.

Their main pickups were 7-footer Andrea Bargnani -- who is talented but one-dimensional -- Metta World Peace, Beno Udrih and rookie swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. They join holdovers Anthony, Chandler, Raymond Felton, Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Pablo Prigioni, Amar'e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin.

Many of them still are bothered by losing to Indiana in the conference semifinals. They're using that for motivation this year, and they know winning one round isn't enough.

"Absolutely it's got to be more -- and we should want more," coach Mike Woodson said. "I'd like to think we're a little better across the board."

The Knicks are deep. But important factors for them will be getting consistent scoring from Bargnani as well as much better rebounding than his career average of 4.8 per game, and good health from Stoudemire, who has undergone three knee surgeries in the past year.

The six-time All-Star remains an X-factor because if he can play consistently and is healthy heading into the postseason, the Knicks will have another scoring option to take some of the load off Anthony.

"I like the makeup of our team," Woodson said. "We just got to stay healthy. I got to make sure I can get the most out of Kenyon and Amar'e. I think that's going to be the key to our success."

The Knicks have other potential concerns.

Rebounding was a weakness last season and the Knicks never addressed it. A lack of leadership also could be an issue, and there's always the tendency to become too Anthony-centric offensively.

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But the Knicks have versatility and the ability to play different lineups. If Bargnani struggles, Woodson could start a good defensive lineup of World Peace, Anthony and Chandler with Felton and Shumpert in the backcourt.

World Peace, 33, played on the Lakers' 2010 championship team. His best years are behind him, but he still brings toughness and a defensive intensity that the Knicks think could help them celebrate at the end of the season.

"We have guys that won and understand how to win," Chandler said. "Guys understand in this league it's a small window, and when you have the right amount of talent to even contend for a championship, you have to seize the moment because you never know when it will happen again."

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