The Knicks seemed to have selective hearing when Tyson Chandler urged them to play defense Sunday against the Hawks.
Chandler plans to speak up later this week before the playoffs start, and his words probably will be listened to a little more closely. He is the only Knicks player with a championship ring, and his memory of what it took to earn it is fresh. He helped the Mavericks win their first title last June.
After the Knicks play their regular-season finale Thursday in Charlotte, Chandler said the players need to meet and discuss "what's at stake" when the playoffs open this weekend. The vocal Chandler knows what his message will be at that meeting.
"We have to really, really lock in," Chandler said. "We have to lock in to what we're trying to accomplish out there. The only way you beat a team is by every possession you accomplish what the coaches see that's best fit for the game plan. If you make a mistake on one rotation, it can cost you the game. Playoffs are a different ballgame."
The Knicks, who beat the Hawks, 113-112, on Sunday with Chandler resting, are in the playoffs for the second straight year, but they're trying to end a long postseason drought. They haven't won a playoff game since 2001 and haven't won a series since 2000. They won't have the home-court edge in the first round, so their attention to detail will be critical against Miami, Chicago or Indiana.
"We have to have a different focus about us," Chandler said.
With two games left, the Knicks are tied for seventh with the 76ers in the East and still can climb to sixth or fall to eighth. If the Knicks beat the Clippers at home Wednesday and the Bobcats in Charlotte on Thursday and Orlando loses at home to the Bobcats and at Memphis, the Knicks will finish sixth and face Indiana in the first round.
That would be the best matchup for the Knicks, who went 2-1 against Indiana and blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead in the game they lost. They were 1-6 combined against the Heat and Bulls.
But Chandler, a strong NBA Defensive Player of the Year candidate, believes in worrying about yourself and not whom you're playing. The Mavericks were the lower seed in the Western semifinals against the Lakers and in the NBA Finals against the Heat and went 4-1 on the road in those series. "I just went through it last year," Chandler said. "I understand what it's going to take for us to get there."
The Knicks are a veteran group with plenty of playoff experience. Mike Bibby played in the Finals last year with Miami. Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire have been to the conference finals and Baron Davis the conference semifinals.
Interim coach Mike Woodson, who is making a solid case to return next season, guided the Hawks to two straight Eastern Conference semifinal appearances and won a championship as an assistant under Larry Brown in Detroit in 2004.
Woodson is trying to get Anthony and Stoudemire to coexist and become a devastating one-two punch in the playoffs. But the other end of the court is more important to Woodson.
"There's enough points to go around for everybody," Woodson said. "I just don't want guys to be selfish. I want the ball to move when it has to move. At the end of the day, I want everybody playing defense and rebounding. That's what's going to win."