Thursday, December 16, 2010

NFL Picks Week Fifteen: In Which I Care About The Knicks Again

Holy shit.

After a decade of ambivalence towards a team that made mediocrity seem good, I actually care about the Knicks again. For those of you who haven't been paying attention, New York has won 13 of 14 games with their last being an impressive victory over the Nuggets Sunday afternoon. While another winning streak was halted last night in a heartbreaking last second loss to the Boston Celtics, there are a few things to notice here about this team. First of all, Amar'e Stoudemire is a monster in the front court, plain and simple. I was among the chorus of individuals who viewed him as a nice signing for the 'Bockers this offseason, but not one that could singlehandedly turn a franchise's fortunes around. His role was best as a second fiddle to someone like LeBron James, who shockingly landed elsewhere.

I was wrong.

Not only can Amar'e be "the guy", but he's thriving of late. Of course, second of all, for me to say he is the sole reason for the Knicks' recent good fortune would be shortsighted. Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Wilson Chandler have all played parts in the resurgence. Third of all, this game, even as a loss, proves the Knicks can play with the big boys. This wasn't a fluke, this wasn't random and it could be a harbinger of the team's return to relevance in a League in which New York has been an utter non-factor for the past decade. I have at times lamented both the Knicks' absurd mediocrity and my own youthful foolishness in choosing to root for them, but perhaps, at long last, that may no longer be the case.

Wednesday night's wild shootout with Boston was the second time the Garden rocked this week, and MSG hasn't had that kind of basketball excitement in it since the Knicks lost to San Antonio in the 1999 NBA Finals, or maybe even since the days of Patrick Ewing and John Starks. Now things are different and even the opposition, in this case Paul Pierce, recognizes it. After the game last night Pierce noted, "The Knicks have arrived."

So, in the midst of all this excitement, I bring to the table a curiousity wholly related to the sudden rise of Mike D'Antoni's boys.

This feels kind of funny.

No, not ha-ha funny. This feels weird, odd, highly unusual. In a good way, of course, but watching the Knicks and actually having a reason to feel hopeful is something I haven't experienced in my entire adult life. So dramatic is the shift that the Knicks missed out on my 2000s jersey-buying spree and as a result I don't even own one piece of Knicks merchandise. It may be time for this to change. A bobblehead or two, or at least a jersey, might be in order in time for my tentative plans to see the Knicks in Philadelphia in February, but before I get to that point, I'm going to need to recognize and reconcile these odd feelings I have about actually wanting to watch the Knicks play basketball again.

The only thing I can really relate this to, and this may sound odd, is the kind of awakening that comes when you hit puberty. I remember, pretty exactly, when the first moment was that I saw a woman in a bikini and was actually intrigued rather than being ambivalent or grossed out. As an 11-year-old whose mother had, for whatever reason, opted not to tell Sports Illustrated to keep the Swimsuit Issue to itself when I moved over from SI for Kids, I saw the 1997 SI Swimsuit Issue on my coffee table one February, the first thing even remotely close to pornography that I had ever owned. The thoughts that run through your mind when you aren't quite sure if you're supposed to like what you're seeing -- even though you know you do -- are a cautious curiosity of the as yet unknown. And while this may seem like an utterly ridiculous parallel to draw -- that's because it is -- that's what I feel like I'm experiencing with the Knicks. The unknown. I've never known what it's like to be a post-pubescent adult who actually has a reason to be optimistic or care about the Knicks. I don't know what this is or how to manage it, just that I may not have a choice in doing so. And given that situation, I'm going to do whatever it is I can to make the best of it. Or at least enjoy it.

Now that said, I understand that it's foolish to assume the Knickerbockers are suddenly championship contenders. But they are, at long last on the road back.

They matter. And last night is as a piece of evidence as you can hope for that they do.

And with all that said, I sometimes feel as though I've written a solid blog post that stands on its own -- and this is one of them. But those damn Thursday night NFL games mean I'm going to have to hackily tack my NFL picks onto this ode to 'Bocker basketball. So here we go.

Last week: 9-7-0
Season: 104-95-10

SAN DIEGO (-9) over San Francisco
NY GIANTS (-3) over Philadelphia
Cleveland (+1) over CINCINNATI
DALLAS (-6) over Washington
Houston (+2) over TENNESSEE
Jacksonville (+5) over INDIANAPOLIS
Kansas City (even) over ST. LOUIS
MIAMI (-6) over Buffalo
TAMPA BAY (-6) over Detroit
Arizona (+1) over CAROLINA
New Orleans (+1) over BALTIMORE
SEATTLE (+7) over Atlanta
OAKLAND (-7) over Denver
NY Jets (+6) over PITTSBURGH
NEW ENGLAND (even) over Green Bay
Chicago (even) over MINNESOTA

And there you have it. I'm off to watch some Knicks basketball. For the first time in a long time.

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