2007-11-09 / Sports

Knicks Happy To Focus On Important Basketball Matters

By John J. Buro

There were times that the New York Knicks' home opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves, played last Sunday to a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden, was not the real attraction.

It is difficult to mask a stirring 97-93 victory, particularly when any 'W' in this zip code should be appreciated. But, that task becomes greater when the Knicks -which began their 61st season in the National Basketball Association with a loss to LeBron James, and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers, at the Quicken Loans Arena two days earlier- hitched their wagon to Zach Randolph, a beast among forwards, but still quite unaccustomed to playing in this jungle.

The sexual harassment trial, starring CEO James Dolan and Head Coach Isiah Thomas, lasted three weeks and repulsed the vast majority of Garden fans. Thomas, the more visible of the two powers, had been booed during each of the four pre-season games which preceded this one. As such, it will be quite a while -if everbefore any derisive cheers are replaced with genuine applause.

"Our fans were huge tonight," said Jamal Crawford, who topped all scorers with 24 points, and tied Stephon Marbury with a team-high seven assists. "They were really warm to us. They got on us when they needed to, and I think it inspired us."

"Already, this place has a different feel to it. There is enough nervous energy to keep everyone on pins and needles. But, that isn't necessarily a bad thing if the players continue to perform at high levels."

The Timberwolves, too, were in the news during the off-season; their one bit of activity trumped virtually anything that was deemed headline news around the NBA. With the exception of Tim Donaghy's embarrassment, by virtue of a betting scandal, the trade of Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics for seven players was clearly the league's top story and, in fact, may have the potential to work well for both teams.

Inside the locker room an hour before the tip-off, a Denver scribe approached Mardy Collins and proceeded to reel off a half-dozen questions regarding the brawl with the Nuggets on the Garden floor last December.

To his credit, Collins remained poised and answered each query in an even tone - at least, until the local media began to circle him.

There was still a lot of basketball to be played at that point, and a large portion of it was very entertaining. While Knick fans considered the entertainment value of their ticket - which, according to the team's website, can range between $10 and $3004.50- wins matter most.

No longer is a solid team effort worthy of applause. With a payroll of $89 million, or $20 million more than Minnesota, there are reasonable expectations that New York will be playing basketball beyond the 82-game season.

"It's always good to win the home opener," said Thomas, who sounded positively giddy, compared to a week ago. "We struggled here at the start of last season. The fans were great tonight; they were really supportive."

They will continue to be, as long as the Knicks play well. That much is a given; even at their worst, New York fans have never deserted them.

Whether or not the team that Thomas has assembled, and choreographed, can sustain this momentum - they only won three straight games on two occasions last season- is the 'X' Factor.

Right now, the Knicks are very much like Kenya's Martin Lel and England's Paula Radcliffe, the winners in their respective divisions of the recently completed 2007 NYC Marathon.

Lel and Radcliffe were both involved in tight races until the final 800 meters. But, if they stay near the top, then provide a final surge over the final tengames,therewillbehope. And a well-deserved payoff for their fans.

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