2007-01-12 / Sports

With Knicks, Less Is More In Weak East

By John J. Buro

In sports, 'more' usually wins. More runs. More points. More goals. Rarely, is 'less' ever a contributing factor in victory.

The New York Knicks, of all teams, seem to have proven that theory wrong.

Since the embarrassing, yet almost necessary, melee against the Denver Nuggets on December 16, the Knicks have played well enough to remain in contention for the East title.

And, while first place in the NBA's worst division - where each of the five teams is currently below .500- is a relatively tame accomplishment, New York should be recognized for its tenacity.

It is no secret that the Knicks are the most flawed of all 30 teams. They have a litany of personal and personnel issues, including a combined $140 million payroll that is twice that of the defending-champion Miami Heat-, and have severely underachieved this season.

Or, have they? In 2005-06, New York finished with 23 wins and 59 losses. When Larry Brown bolted after one season, Isiah Thomas was named the Knicks' coach by default.

While Brown would, subsequently, engineer Allen Iverson's move to the Mile High City and accept the appointment of Philadelphia 76ers' Executive Vice President, Thomas has watched with a smile from his team's sideline.

"I like our approach," he said. "I like our temperament and the toughness that is developing. If we can sustain it, and build upon it through April, we will become a very good basketball team."

However, Stephon Marbury was cautiously optimistic after a shorthanded New York squad closed out a five-game western swing with consecutive victories against the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle SuperSonics.

"I can't say right now," Marbury replied, when asked to assess the team's immediate future with the impending return of Quentin Richardson and Nate Robinson. "It might be different. It might be good. It might be an adjustment."

Richardson missed each of the five games with back spasms. In Seattle, Robinson -sitting out the final game of a 10-game league-imposed suspension for his role in the brawl- missed an opportunity to play in front of the hometown crowd.

Still, the Knicks have won six of those ten games, and have jumped back to third place, one full game behind the Toronto Raptors. They have done so without Richardson or Robinson, and with limited minutes from Steve Francis, who may have played his last game in a New York uniform.

At no point this year have they had a full complement of players.

At home in particular, where they had won four straight through Wednesday, they only needed eight men to knock off the Utah Jazz in overtime, and nine men to outpoint the Chicago Bulls.

Lenny Wilkens, who was the first Knicks' coach handpicked by Thomas, and lasted exactly 53 weeks in that capacity, presented a new take on his old team.

Their improvement, he stated, is more likely a result of Thomas being "forced to play certain guys." He borrowed an adage, applied by GMs, suggesting that the best deals are the ones that aren't made. In this case, it could be construed as a subtle knock against his former boss. "Sometimes," Wilkens continued, "you get better because you don't make a great decision."

However, Thomas waved off that notion. Extra bodies don't necessarily make a coach's life easier. "But, I'd rather have the guns."

He has quite a few decisions to make. And not just in the backcourt. Richardson, a swingman, has the ability to play both guard and small forward. So, while Q can affect Marbury's playing time, or Jamal Crawford's, he will most certainly cut into Robinson's. On the frontline, Richardson might team with a healthy Jared Jeffries and an imposing Eddy Curry. Oddly enough, David Lee -New York's most consistent player this season- may lose minutes because of these frequent substitutions.

But, such options are usually dictated by game conditions - such as a blowout, or an abnormal amount of personal fouls.

More or less.

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