TNT experts: It's nice that Knicks are back

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TNT announcer Charles Barkely (far right) prior to

TNT announcer Charles Barkely (far right) prior to the game between the Miami Heat and New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. (Jan. 27, 2011) Photo Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

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

Welcome to the World's Most Famous Arena, Charles Barkley! So, how long has it been since you last took in a game here?

"When I played,'' the TNT studio analyst said before last night's Knicks-Heat game.

Um, when you played? Wasn't that in another millennium?

"I hate to break it to you, but y'all ain't been in the playoffs,'' Barkley said. "I'm just letting you know. We only broadcast the playoffs [on site].''

After a cursory check of the dusty archives, it appears the last game in which Sir Charles played at the Garden was Feb. 22, 1998, when he scored seven points in the Rockets' 92-74 loss to the Knicks.

The fact that he at last returned, along with a TNT cast of analysts out of a 1990s time machine, was the latest sign of the Knicks' return to relevance.

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For its first game at the Garden in five years - including a pregame special to announce the All-Star starters - TNT brought along Barkley, Kenny Smith, Steve Kerr and the Ghost of Garden Classics Past himself, Reggie Miller. Oh, and Marv Albert, too.

"I'm waiting for [Michael] Jordan to run out from somewhere,'' Miller said.

They all agreed on this: It's nice to have the Knicks back on the NBA's radar screen.

"Being a [native] New Yorker, I'm ecstatic,'' said Smith, who recently made a televised apology for underestimating the Knicks before the season.

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"It's incredible. I don't think anyone foresaw the electricity. They might have foreseen improvement, but there is electricity in the atmosphere, and the expectation level has risen - risen realistically.''

Miller, whose rivalry with the Knicks was the subject of an ESPN documentary last year, said he had not been in the building since recording a feature with old nemesis Spike Lee several years ago.

He said just standing in the hallway outside the visiting locker room was giving him flashbacks to the old days.

"The buzz is back,'' Miller said. "I love the excitement this city and this building brings. It's unmatched anywhere you go.''

Kerr said he still has visions of Lee jumping up and down, Charles Oakley "knocking people's teeth out'' and the incessant playing of that "Go, New York, Go'' song from playoff games when he was a Bull.

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Now he is watching Amar'e Stoudemire, who played for the Suns when Kerr was their general manager, re-light the fire.

"It's electrified the Garden and the fans,'' he said. "It's a whole different vibe.''

This is what Miller said about Stoudemire, who last night was named an All-Star starter:

"When he came in, the first thing out of his mouth was, 'The Knicks are back.' Not a lot of guys accept the bright lights. He accepted them.''

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This is the point in our gushing where we must pause for a reality check.

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As positive as TNT's experts are about the Knicks' direction, the consensus is that they remain a limited team, one likely headed for the sixth seed in the playoffs.

Barkley said he is not surprised by Stoudemire's success, having watched him on a regular basis as a Phoenix-area resident when Stoudemire played for the Suns. But he said he needs more A-list help.

"Right now, they can't win a round of the playoffs,'' Barkley said. "The Carmelo [Anthony] thing is huge. If they could get Carmelo, they'd really be back in the mix.''

Does the NBA need them to be? "Yes and no,'' Barkley said. "It's always great when the Knicks are relevant, but they haven't been relevant in a while and it ain't like the NBA stopped.

"So it's not a must because it's been a long time. Yes, it is better . But they have to do better.''

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