What the Knicks hope is a new era dawned at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night as the team's $51-million-a-year frontcourt played its first game together in their expensively renovated arena.
OK, the Knicks' 88-82 win over the Nets was just a preseason game. But it did mark the first professional men's basketball game to be played in the Garden since the team finished the first stage of its $850-million renovation. It also marked the first home game the team has played since signing 7-1 center Tyson Chandler. And the sellout crowd liked what it saw.
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Chandler grabbed 12 rebounds, blocked two shots and scored eight points. He produced some spectacular moments, such as the near dunk when he flew over Nets rookie MarShon Brooks and was fouled. And some quietly impressive ones as he always seemed to be in the right place on defense while encouraging his teammates to do the same.
"I thought we played great," Chandler said. "We really held them to 79 points because that three-pointer was the buzzer. The defense was there.
The team is hoping that its frontcourt of Chandler, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire will make them a contender for the first time in more than a decade. The three totaled 44 points and 23 rebounds last night, and it was clear from the get-go that they are going to be the focal point of this team. The first clue of that came before the game when the Knicks changed the order in which their starters were introduced.
Introductions in the latter part of last season started with Anthony coming out first and Stoudemire being introduced last, but last night the Knicks started with their guards before following with Chandler, Anthony and then Stoudemire.
"Our goals are definitely higher now than they were last season," Stoudemire said. "This year, our goal is to ultimately win a championship. That is the quest that we're on."
The quest officially begins Sunday when the Knicks host the Celtics at noon to open the NBA's 66-game season. The Celtics swept the Knicks in the first round of last season's playoffs.
Last night's win meant the Knicks completed the truncated preseason with a 2-0 record. They also had a 92-83 win over the Nets in Newark on Saturday.
Anthony led all scorers with 21 points and eight rebounds. Stoudemire had 15 points and three rebounds. The Nets were led by Deron Williams' 21 points.
While the Knicks' frontcourt is getting the star treatment, the Knicks' backcourt, especially their point guard spot, is getting the most scrutiny. With the recent signing of injured Baron Davis, there's been more than a little pressure on starter Toney Douglas. Douglas had a decent game, scoring 13 points with eight rebounds and three assists. Backup point guard Mike Bibby was 0-for-2 in 11 minutes before leaving with back spasms.
Oddly enough, the player who ignited the most passion was Kris Humphries. The Nets' power forward was signed Wednesday after a busy offseason that included a brief marriage to reality television star Kim Kardashian. The fans booed nearly every time Humphries touched the ball, but chanted for him to return when he was on the bench.