These Knicks can beat the Heat

At some point, the New York Knicks will put us all out of our misery, in a good way. Far from being a franchise on a respirator, they'll have a pulse of their own. They'll legitimately become a contender, instead of one in name only. We'll all look at Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, the greatness associated with them, and happily call each of them one of us.

This could happen soon -- very soon, if the Knicks manage to return to the playoffs for the first time in seven years and face the Miami Heat. Because this is an encounter they will openly cherish.

You can point to LeBron James' ill-advised Decision last July, the celebration that became both a coronation and a colossal embarrassment, or this ongoing season of acrimony, turmoil, humiliation and, dare we say, tears in South Beach. But none of that is cause for the Knicks to look at Miami's trio of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as ripe to be had, salivating at the chance to freeze the Heat for the summer.

Erick Dampier as a starting center would provoke confidence in a squirrel, so he easily qualifies as the first reason the Knicks should want to take on Miami. James, with his lack of winning tendencies recently, hasn't given anyone reason to quiver. The same can be said for Wade, who's inexplicably deferring to James these days. And let us not forget coach Erik Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley, who've allowed such questionable antics to take place on their watch.

"The games have to be played. We all know that," the Knicks' newly acquired veteran point guard, Anthony Carter, told me Wednesday night. "We know who the teams are and we don't necessarily have a preference. But we're this way because we feel extremely confident in ourselves and what we can do when we're on our game. We don't care who it's against."

Carter needs to stop fibbing!

The Knicks can banter all they want about how competition doesn't matter, but they'd be fools to want to face anyone other than Miami in a first-round playoff series with the way things have looked over the past two weeks.

A missed three vs. Chicago, a blocked layup vs. the Knicks, another missed layup after blowing a 24-point lead at home vs. Orlando, an annihilation at the hands of the Spurs and another loss that practically ended with the ball in James' hands -- all those things happened to the Heat in the last 11 days. All miserable losses. All forcing the basketball world to look at Miami and ask, "What the hell is going on?" Especially when you hear the coach say there were tears in the locker room and that no one appears to know what's going on.

"We all feel uncomfortable right now," Spoelstra said, trying to explain his team's emotional state of mind. "We can make our biggest breakthrough during these times. We do need to change some habits. These aren't easy habits to change. More sacrifice. More commitment. More attention to detail."

Clearly, the Knicks share no familiarity with such rhetoric.

Rewind the clock just one season, and every season about seven years prior, and nothing of the sort was ever mentioned about the Knicks. They were a moribund franchise of the highest order. So completely inept, you couldn't get to "sacrifice," "commitment" or "detail" simply because their lack of talent was so conspicuously in the way.

But times have changed on Broadway. Expectations have now replaced hope. Whether they qualify as expectations of the stupid variety all depends on who the Knicks play in the first round.

"He don't want none of me!" Stoudemire said weeks ago.

If only he were talking about someone other than Al Horford of Atlanta, a team the Knicks could beat in a playoff series. Perhaps someone on Miami, Orlando, Chicago or Boston, one of whom the Knicks will probably face in the first round.

As for those hoping for miracles, they do happen. But what would it take to achieve one next month?

Please know it won't happen against the shooters in Orlando surrounding Dwight Howard -- a guy too big, too strong, too fast, too gifted and too defensive-minded for anyone on the Knicks to handle. Understand that it's not likely to take place against a Chicago Bulls team with a superstar and a leader in Derrick Rose.

Please comprehend that the Knicks will not beat the Boston Celtics with All-Stars such as Kevin Garnett looking healthy again and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen shooting like they do, with Rajon Rondo breaking down New York's defense and Shaquille O'Neal clogging the middle.

"We know how good those teams are," Carter said. "But what people are forgetting is that we haven't had much time to practice and develop our chemistry. We'll play better defense, too, and we know our offense will come. Nobody knows what's going to happen. All we can do is play the games."

And win, of course. If you really want folks to believe.