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Knicks have a scrappy holiday at MSG

NEW YORK -- By no means did it come gift-wrapped.

Oh, no.

The New York Knicks didn't just want a huge present on Christmas Day -- in this case, a victory over the talented Chicago Bulls. The Knicks, in fact, needed it.

You never want to make too big a deal about an NBA game in December -- even on a national holiday with the country watching at home on TV.

Still, as well as the Knicks have been playing, there were still some who couldn't shake the fact that they had a shot at the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics at home in the same week and lost to both. That's the class the Knicks are trying to get into.

It's nice to beat up on the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Charlotte Bobcats of the world, but it's quite different to take on the elites and not just play well, but win. Did we say, convincingly?

That's what the Knicks did in their 103-95 suitable-for-framing victory at an amped up Madison Square Garden. If you closed your eyes for a minute and just listened to the crowd, you would have sworn Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing were playing. And that it was playoff time, not winter time. And that the game had more on the line than just being the appetizer on a day filled with great matchups.

That's how intense and alive it was. Apparently, goose bumps have season tickets once again.

And when the cheering finally stopped, it was the Knicks' great outside shooting and shutdown, fourth-quarter defense -- which allowed just 12 points -- that enabled them to beat the Bulls and finally put a feather in their cap.

The Knicks are 18-12 and off to their best start since they had the same record in the 2000-01 season.

"You have to beat these teams, especially at home," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "It's good to bounce back after the three we lost in a row, that it wasn't a fluke that we had won a few [in a row].

"It was a feel-good game for sure."

Indeed. Months from now, this could be a first-round playoff matchup. Right now, the Knicks would have to believe they'd have a shot to advance.

The Bulls -- who entered the game winners of nine of their previous 10 -- present a ton of problems because of Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer. Boozer (26) and Rose (25) got their points, but they had to earn them. Rose was 12-for-28 from the field and Boozer was 11-for-25.

Both were also dogged on defense and forced into gift-giving that would be foreign even to Santa. Each player had seven turnovers.

"We know Chicago is a team to beat right now," Amare Stoudemire said. "They've been playing great this year with the help of Carlos. He's a handful.

"The great thing about it is that we got the win. It was a tough, hard-fought battle but it was a total team effort."

That's what should have made Knicks fans feel good. Stoudemire had a good game with 20 points and 10 rebounds. But it wasn't a monster effort. The Knicks have to be able to win on nights other than when Stoudemire is a man amongst boys.

All five starters were in double figures and shared the basketball like a bag of marshmallows on a camping trip. That's what impressed Rose about the Knicks, who are now 2-0 against his squad. "They pass the ball great," Rose said of the Knicks, who had 25 assists. "They find each other, especially in the open court -- they get it to their knock-down shooters and knock down the shots. The ball is always moving, but you have to give it to them, they played really well."

In a spot they honestly had to. Had the Knicks lost, some critics might have started to pooh-pooh whether this resurgence was real or just the result of all the bad teams in the NBA.

If you felt good about the Knicks and their newfound success before Christmas, you have to feel even better as they move into the new year.

"We beat a good team today," said Raymond Felton, who had 20 points and 12 assists. "They are a very good team, one of the best teams in the East.

"They have a great team, well-coached ... it was a big win for us."

Best of all, it wasn't a gift. They had to earn it.

Rob Parker is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.

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