by Pat Ralph
Spring is here, the weather is getting nice, and the NBA Playoffs are set to begin this week.
There are many important storylines heading into the 2013 Playoffs, but one of the most notable is that the New York Knickerbockers are legitimate title contenders for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
After finishing 54-28 in the 2012-2013 season, which was their best finish since 1996-1997, the Knicks won their first Atlantic Division title since the 1993-1994 season.
Real playoff basketball is finally back in the Big Apple, and Knicks fans like myself could not be happier or more excited.
Yes, the Knicks have been in the playoffs during the last two seasons, but they have not been legitimate contenders in either postseason.
In 2011, the Knicks were swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round, while in 2012, they were eliminated in five against the eventual-champion Miami Heat in the first round.
As for this year’s postseason, the tables have turned.
After dethroning the Celtics from atop the Atlantic Division, which they had won the last five years, the Knicks earned the No.2 seed in the Eastern Conference and the right to play none other than the Boston Celtics, their oldest rival.
As any Knicks fan (and Celtics fan) can attest to, the Knicks-Celtics rivalry is one of the most classic rivalries in NBA history, dating back to battles in the 1960’s.
Throughout the rivalry, each team has had their period of holding the upper hand, and over the last decade or so, the Celtics have had it.
But with the Knicks winning the regular season series 3-1 this season and holding home court advantage in their playoff series, the times are changing.
One thing is for sure—the Knicks will be looking for revenge against Beantown after being swept at the hands of Boston in the 2011 Playoffs.
The 2013 Playoffs will be a failure if the Knickerbockers do not make it out of the first round.
The Knicks have not won a playoff series since ’99-’00, when they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals only to lose to one of their archrivals, the Indiana Pacers.
Since then, they have only won two playoff games. In the 2001 Playoffs, the Knicks were knocked out 3-1 in the first round against the upstart Toronto Raptors, which signaled the beginning of the end for Knicks fans.
The Knicks’ only other playoff appearance after 2001 and before 2011 came in 2004, when they were swept in the first round against their cross-river rival New Jersey Nets, who now play in Brooklyn.
The Knicks have not been to the NBA Finals since the 1998-1999 season, when they were dominated in five games by the San Antonio Spurs.
In the 1993-1994 campaign, the Knicks made it to the NBA Finals, only to blow a 3-2 series lead over the Houston Rockets and lose in seven games.
That year, the head coach of the Knicks was Pat Riley. This is the same Pat Riley who turned his back on New York to take over the Miami Heat and form one of the most vicious rivalries between the Heat and the Knicks in the late 1990’s.
The same Pat Riley who formed “The Big Three” of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade,and Chris Bosh in Miami, and who the Knicks have their sights set on for a possible Eastern Conference Finals matchup.
There is no love lost between Riley and the Knicks, so a victory over Miami, especially in the playoffs against a perennial title contender, would quench the thirst for revenge that most Knicks fans desire against Riley.
An Eastern Conference Finals matchup against the Heat could be one for the ages.
It would bring back memories of the glorious battles between Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning, only replace them with the likes of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.
The key to success for the Knickerbockers in the playoffs will be their ability to play strong defense and shoot the three-ball well like they have all season.
Mike Woodson has done a terrific job as head coach and deserves to be considered for Coach of the Year honors.
Carmelo Anthony, who won the NBA scoring title, has developed into a terrific all-around player on both ends of the floor this year and has finally improved his attitude.
Anthony has matured and stepped up as a leader this year and his play will determine how far this team goes in the playoffs.
Anthony will now have the challenge that Patrick Ewing failed to accomplish, fulfilling a Hall of Fame legacy by winning a championship in New York City.
J.R. Smith, who deserves to be the Sixth Man of the Year (sorry ex-Knick Jamal Crawford), will also be the go-to scorer along with Anthony and can put up a lot points very quickly.
Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert, who are both fully healthy now, will be anchoring the defensive end of the floor for the Knicks.
Meanwhile, postseason veterans Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby will be there to provide great experience off the bench.
Don’t forget ball-handler Raymond Felton and three-point specialist Steve Novak, who will both be key to the Knicks’ offensive attack in the playoffs.
The Knicks will also be patiently waiting for the return of Amar’e Stoudemire and Pablo Prigiono.
Stoudemire has been out the last six weeks with a knee injury and Prigioni injured his ankle in the final game of the regular season.
With the Knicks heading into the playoffs having played their best basketball to wrap up the regular season, Knicks fans are feeling great about the possibilities of lifting the trophy for the first time in 40 years.
On the Knicks 1973 championship team, they had 10 Hall of Famers, which is absolutely incredible.
If the 2013 Knicks could bring back the title to New York, it would serve as a salute to their fans who have been through thick and thin with this franchise.
But more importantly, it would be the perfect dedication and tribute to the 40th anniversary of the last Knickerbockers squad to win it all.