New Knicks could soon be toast of town

Jason Kidd, right, James White, Steve Novak, left, Jason Kidd, right, James White, Steve Novak, left, and Tyson Chandler, rear, celebrate with teammate J.R. Smith after Smith hit a game-winning basket against the Phoenix Suns. (Dec. 26, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

The Jets will be through at about 4 p.m. Sunday, mercifully so. The Giants likely will follow, undone by a baffling late-season collapse.

The Nets don't seem nearly as cool as they did two months ago. Pitchers and catchers are many weeks away.

Hockey? Who knows?

So as 2013 dawns, the Knicks find themselves in a place they have not been since late in the 20th century (Linsanity excluded): kings of New York sports, at least for now.

Oops, did I say "Kings"? No offense intended so soon after what happened in Sacramento early Saturday morning (New York time).

But actually, the bizarre 106-105 loss to the Kings -- a game in which the shorthanded Knicks fell behind by 27 points, went ahead by five, bungled the last two minutes (including a devastating turnover by future Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd) and lost on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by a fellow who had been 0-for-11 this season -- illustrated why we are well served having these guys in the spotlight.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

In short, the Knicks are good, and they are complicated, and they are intriguing, and they are fragile.

All of it was on display during a three-game West Coast swing that began on Christmas Day with a taut struggle against the Lakers in which two Knicks starters -- Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton -- suffered injuries.

They followed that by beating the Suns when J.R. Smith hit an off-balance shot at the buzzer, then losing to the Kings when James Johnson returned the favor.

"Karma, quickly," Smith said. "It comes back around fast."

This was in a losing locker room notable for the fact that players still were picking over the end-of-the-game sequence among themselves even after reporters were allowed inside -- a rarity that spoke to how much it meant and how frustrating it was.

"That's the toughest way to lose,'' said Steve Novak, who narrowly missed stealing the ball before it landed in the hands of Johnson. "You'd rather lose by 40 than lose on a game-winner. That's going to sting for a while."

Or perhaps it will fade quickly as the long season slogs on. But the beauty of these Knicks is that further twists are inevitable, starting Sunday, when luminaries such as Amar'e Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace and perhaps Anthony could give coach Mike Woodson enough bodies to hold a full practice at last.

Or not. Anthony was unsure of his status after hurting his left knee Tuesday. Stoudemire's recovery from knee issues of his own remains murky.

Before Friday's game, Woodson said Stoudemire would be "full go" Sunday. But a new concern may have arisen between then and when Stoudemire told MSG during the game that he first has to be cleared to practice by doctors. After the game, he said merely that he would see what happens after his return to New York.

Oh, by the way, center Tyson Chandler was limping after the game on what he described as a merely "tweaked" right ankle.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Given the Knicks' many players of advanced age, injuries figure to be an issue all season. The good news is that the eclectic, versatile roster should have enough pieces to allow Woodson to patch holes through the regular season, with the hope that it all falls into place come spring.

There will be much drama between now and then, featuring a team filled with big names and varied personalities that should command the New York sports stage.

With powers such as the Heat, Thunder and Spurs sporting largely familiar casts, no NBA team this side of downtown Los Angeles is as unpredictable and just plain interesting as the Knicks.

The wacky West Coast adventure was the latest example, capped by an all-timer in a dumpy, outmoded arena somewhere north of downtown Sacramento.

"We could have just said hey, long trip, this one got away from us and go home, but we fought back," Chandler said. "It says a lot. I was proud of the guys. This one burns; it's a tough loss. But we battled our hearts out."

You also may be interested in: