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Inside the Knicks' surprising 3-0 start

J.R. Smith reacts after scoring during the second

J.R. Smith reacts after scoring during the second half of a game against the Miami Heat. (Nov. 2, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

Rasheed Wallace's voice carries weight on the basketball court and in the locker room. When he says the unbeaten Knicks "can be scary" once they jell, you can't help but listen.

Wallace has been to the NBA Finals three times and won a ring with Detroit. He wouldn't have come out of a two-year retirement if he didn't believe the Knicks had a chance to make a long playoff run.

It's only three games -- and two were against the 76ers without their best player Andrew Bynum -- but the Knicks have been utterly dominant. They're 3-0 for the first time in 13 years and their average margin of victory is an NBA-best 19.3 points per game.

Few could have predicted this after the injury-ravaged training camp the Knicks endured.

Knee surgery will sideline Amar'e Stoudemire for at least six more weeks. Marcus Camby hasn't scrimmaged in more than a month. And Wallace spent most of camp working on his conditioning instead of practicing.

Yet things couldn't be better for the Knicks, who opened up with a 20-point win over the defending champion Heat.

Carmelo Anthony hasn't had to do too much. He didn't play in the fourth quarter of Monday's 110-88 win in Philadelphia. The older players haven't had to play too many minutes, and the Knicks have clicked, leading Wallace to say, "As far as chemistry goes, we're just at the tip of the iceberg."

Winning players

All the AARP jokes you’ve heard or made because of the older players the Knicks acquired don’t seem as funny now. The Knicks brought in many guys with plenty of mileage, but they know what it takes to win.

Wallace, 38, who will be a vital part of the rotation, has played in eight conference finals and his teams have made 14 consecutive postseason appearances. Jason Kidd, who turns 40 in March, owns a ring, has been to three Finals and has played in 16 consecutive playoffs.

Kurt Thomas, who turned 40 last month, has played in one Finals and two more conference finals. Ronnie Brewer comes from winning teams in Utah and Chicago, where he went to the conference finals, and 35-year-old Pablo Prigioni has played in big games overseas.

“We were able to handpick some guys that we thought could come in and help us,” Mike Woodson said. “Everybody that’s come in is starting to buy in. Everybody that’s come in can play.”

Defensive effort

The Knicks held Miami to 84 points, and have not allowed more than 88 in a game. They’re yielding an NBA-low 85.3 points on 40.7-percent shooting. Even Anthony is working harder on defense than he ever has.

Just about all of the players the Knicks have brought in have a defensive mentality. Hard work and communication have been critical.

“Last year, a lot of times, my voice was the only voice out there,” said Tyson Chandler, the NBA’s 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year. “Now there’s so many voices. We’ve got so many defensive players.”

The Knicks should be even better when Camby plays and Iman Shumpert returns from knee surgery.

Unselfish play

Raymond Felton, Kidd and Prigioni are setting the tone as floor generals and everyone is making the extra pass to get better shots. The Knicks are averaging 24 assists to just 12 turnovers, and shooting 45.3 percent from three-point range.

Usually shot-happy J.R. Smith is showing his playmaking side; he’s tied for second on the Knicks with 13 assists. He has turned the ball over just four times.

Veteran leadership

After the Knicks fell behind 14-4 Monday, Chandler said players heard Kidd and Anthony trying to calm everyone. Anthony also has led by example, leaping into the stands and diving on the floor to try to save loose balls Sunday against Philadelphia.

Leadership also has come from the veterans willing to do what Woodson asks of them.

“From the beginning of the season from training camp, when we first had our meeting, that was the No. 1 message: Guys got to accept their roles,” Anthony said. “Even when the older guys accept their roles, it makes it easy for everyone else.”

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