MIAMI -- Truth be told, one of the early road blocks in the Carmelo Anthony trade was that the Denver Nuggets wanted Chauncey Billups to be in the deal. The Knicks were very happy with Raymond Felton and didn't want to swap point guards, especially not a 26-year-old one for a guy who was 34 and in the latter stages of his prime.
And there were concerns that Billups might not want to come. He was back home in Denver, where he wanted to finish his career and, perhaps, transition into a front office position after retirement. Now he had to move across the country to a team where he'd be basically holding a place until 2012, when Chris Paul and Deron Williams would become the next target.
But what appears to have been underestimated, aside from Billups' demise as an elite point guard, is his competitive fire. And as we've seen already in just three games, especially in Sunday's 91-86 win over the Heat, he is still Mr. Big Shot.
"Different jersey, different everything," Billups said, "but the pride and the passion stay the same."
After almost single-handedly willing the Knicks almost all the way back in the fourth quarter against the Cavaliers on Friday, Billups thrived in crunch time against the Heat. He drilled the deep three over Dwyane Wade for the go-ahead basket with 1:01 left and then on the next possession, read Chris Bosh's pass to Mike Miller and picked it off like a safety reading the quarterback's eyes.
The bipartisan crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena was raucous, with the New York contingent roaring after each big play. This game had plenty of hype and for most of the final three quarters it lived up to it right down to the thrilling finish. And Billups loved it.
"It really felt like a playoff game," he said. "It felt like my old Detroit versus Miami days, coming down here in May and trying to advance to the Finals."
It felt the same for anyone who followed the Knicks in the 1990s, especially considering that neither team reached 100 points and defensive plays were the highlights.
The win meant the Knicks and Heat finish the season series 2-2, with both teams claiming a win on the road. These two teams could meet in the first round of the playoffs, depending on how the brackets finish.
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* - This early success - save for the embarrassing loss in Cleveland - might help the Knicks become a more attractive destination for some of this year's buyout class. Troy Murphy, who is expected to have a buyout agreement done with Golden State, would be a terrific fit as a stretch 5 because of his ability to shoot the three, plus he is an excellent rebounder. Murphy may be leaning more to the Celtics for a better shot at a ring, but the Knicks are on his list. Another big the Knicks have under consideration is Leon Powe, who could give them some hustle and muscle in the paint, though not much size. One seven-footer, Joel Przybilla, appears to be off the potential market as the Bobcats appear to be keeping him for the rest of the season as they battle for a playoff spot.
The Knicks could use another three-point shooter and Rasual Butler will be available once he clears waivers. In limited minutes with the Clippers this season, Butler was shooting 32.6 percent from downtown. He is a career 36.1 percent shooter from three-point range.
What about Mike Bibby as a backup point guard? Bibby doesn't have the legs to defend, but he can still stroke the three. The Heat certainly need help at that position and Bibby might even have a chance at starting, considering their need for a veteran who can run an offense.
One addition we know the Knicks will make for their next game is 6-11 Jared Jeffries, who will sign on Tuesday once he clears waivers. He'll be eligible to play against the Magic on Tuesday night in Orlando.
* - Anthony Carter spent Saturday's practice lobbying Mike D'Antoni for a shot and he got one. Carter, the oldest player on the team at 35 years old, told D'Antoni he has had past success defending Wade "and," D'Antoni said, "he told the truth." Carter didn't lock down Wade, but he did slow him down. He also came up with a block on Wade and went the other way for a layup on the first possession of the fourth quarter to give the Knicks a 67-66 lead. Wade finished the game with 12 points on 5-for-15 shooting from the field with five turnovers. He was the only player among the five all-stars in the game to play under par.
Behind Carter's inclusion in the rotation is the theory that with so much offensive firepower on the team now with Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Billups, the rest of the lineup mainly needs to be filled with roleplayers and, most importantly, defenders (which is what makes Jeffries a good addition). Bill Walker (10 points, 7 rebounds) was another role player who stepped up.
The Knicks shot just 38.8 percent from the field and won the game. The Big 2.5 combined for 23-for-47 (48.9 percent), while the rest of the team was a mere 8-for-33.
* - Carmelo Anthony improved to 10-4 all-time against LeBron James, going back to their epic high school battle in 2002. Carmelo said before the game that he didn't want to turn it into a one-on-one battle, but in the fourth quarter he took the initiative to do just that on the defensive end when he told Walker to switch to Joel Anthony, so he could guard LeBron. "I just wanted to take that challenge tonight," Anthony said. "It helped us out, I think. The guys fed off that energy, they see me out there, leading us on the defensive end. They followed that lead and they picked up the slack."
Anthony clearly wanted to answer George Karl's criticism about his defensive committment and after a lackidasical effort by the entire team in the loss to Cleveland. He was very active defensively in his debut on Wednesday against the Bucks and showed a determination at that end of the floor (and on the glass, with nine boards). He also said he and Stoudemire talked about setting LeBron up for that drive that resulted in Stoudemire coming over for the game-saving block.
It was Billups who said this is all that will separate the new-look Knicks from being an elite team.
"If we can just get to average or a little above average defensively," Billups said on Saturday, "man, we're going to be really dangerous."
*- For the record, Bill Walker says he called glass on that falling-down three at the halftime buzzer. "Yeah, I called glass on the way down," he said. "I called it." We're calling something else on Billy.