Before the Knicks seek to make history with their first playoff victory since Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony were high school juniors, let us pause – just for the heck of it – to consider an alternate history:
What if the Anthony trade had not gone down two months ago and instead he had remained in Denver or landed in Newark or some other outpost west of Eighth Avenue?
There is a chance the Knicks would have been the East’s No. 6 seed anyway, which was where they long appeared headed with their original roster.
They also presumably would have opened against the same aging-but-game Celtics, a team that last season showed it still is capable of turning off the snooze button in time for the postseason.
But there is a fundamental difference, one that will color how the series is perceived, internally and externally.
The Knicks of Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari would have been viewed as scrappy, likeable underdogs, and even being swept mostly would have been shrugged off as part of the building process.
The Knicks of Stoudemire, Anthony and Chauncey Billups have no such luxury. Yes, they are clear underdogs. But no, a poor showing simply won’t do.
As incomplete as they are, they put enough star power on the floor that fans have a right to expect a first-round fight out of them, something the Knicks expect out of themselves.
“Because of the guys and their ability and where they’ve been in the playoffs and their experience and how good they are, we have a chance,’’ coach Mike D’Antoni said.
Stoudemire this week revised the original goal of making the playoffs to reaching the Finals. (If that happens, he presumably will update it again to actually winning the championship.)
“We weren’t really worried about wanting to have the eighth seed,’’ he said. “We wanted to make our stamp on the league and really become a top team in the NBA.’’
Taking out the Celtics – or at least taking them to six or seven games – would go a long way toward maintaining the franchise momentum established during the regular season.
For Anthony and Stoudemire, stars in their 20s at the peaks of their games, it would signal an emerging changing of the guard in the East. Stoudemire and Anthony want what the Celtics have had.
“Those guys are at a different stage of their careers, where Amar’e and them are still really in their prime and really run the show and are alpha males,’’ guard Chauncey Billups said.
“Those guys kind of all had their own teams, ran their own teams and are at a different stage.’’