EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 19, 2008

Rising from the dregs

Knicks hoping to run out of NBA cellar

Alan Siegel

On Pro Basketball

Alan Siegel

BOSTON — Growing up in Chicago, Quentin Richardson hated the Knicks.

"The Bulls always beat them," he said last night. "Always."

Back in the 1990s, things were different. New York was a contender.

"They were very well respected," he said. "Whenever (Chicago) would play them, it would be a hard series."

A decade later, the Knicks bear no resemblance to the once rough-and-tumble squad. But for the first time in recent memory, New York may be on the upswing. Richardson, the ninth-year shooting guard out of DePaul, hopes so.

"You always want to be in a situation where your team matters," he said before the Celtics beat the Knicks 110-101 at TD Banknorth Garden. "That's definitely a position we want to get into."

The best of times (Pat Riley, Patrick Ewing) may have passed, but so have the worst (Larry Brown, Isiah Thomas) of times. New coach Mike D'Antoni, who piloted the Phoenix Suns for five seasons, has installed the same fast-paced system that brilliant point guard Steve Nash drove like a Ferrari.

D'Antoni's arrival was a gift to Richardson. After all, he spent 2004-05 with the Suns, who ended up advancing to the Western Conference finals before falling to eventual-champion San Antonio.

Richardson averaged 14.9 points per game and set the franchise record for 3-pointers (226).

It was the most fun he'd had in the NBA.

"You combine all the different things," said Richardson, who scored 13 points last night. "We had a great group of guys. A lot of those guys are still great friends. It was special."

"The way I look at it," he added, "I really couldn't see anybody who wouldn't want to play that style."

By last season, Richardson (8.1 ppg), like the Thomas-led Knicks, had been rendered irrelevant. Thankfully for the current crop of New York players, so had D'Antoni, whose uptempo style was no longer a fit for

the plodding (see O'Neal, Shaquille) Suns.

"I couldn't believe they'd get rid of him," Richardson said of the Phoenix brass' decision to fire D'Antoni. "It was definitely a surprise to me."

The run-and-gun Knicks would make an in-his-prime Charles Oakley scowl and punch the Madison Square Garden floor, but early returns are good.

New York is a respectable 6-5, including a win over Utah.

They've allowed 110, 114, 116 and 132 points in their past four contests. It's far from perfect. But for the first time in a long while, New York's philosophy appears to be defined.

"They clearly have a game plan," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "They've bought into Mike's system. They're playing well."

The Knicks will score in bunches. Second-year forward Wilson Chandler is fine with that.

"The pace of the game is so fast," said Chandler, who led all scorers with 23 points last night. "Everybody's sharing. It makes you want to go out there and play hard."

Richardson knows the transformation won't be instant, especially without any imminent blockbuster trades.

"You realize that everybody can't win a championship," said Richardson, whose team hasn't made the playoffs since 2003-04. "But you want to be in a position where you're always in competition."

Last night, the Knicks proved they can hang with the Celtics - at least without suspended Kevin Garnett on the floor. It was at times a chippy game, with New York's D'Antoni, Nate Robinson and Zach Randolph each earning technical fouls (Leon Powe was also teed up after a

scuffle with Randolph).

"That was a different Knicks team that last year," said pulverizing center Kendrick Perkins, who scored 16 of Boston's 50 points in the paint. "Playing hard, playing together."

Whether they can fully rise above their ignominious (recent) past is still unclear. Still, a tough battle with Boston likely proves that they're destined for a better finish than last year's abysmal 23-59 mark.

"That's what everybody wants to be," Richardson said of the Celtics,"a championship contending team."

For the Knicks, a franchise that made the playoffs for 14 straight years starting in 1987-88, that made the NBA finals twice in the past 15 years (1999, 1994), that should be the league's crown jewel, a winning season would go a long way.

Now only if they could figure out what to do with Stephon Marbury.

Alan Siegel is a sportswriter at The Eagle-Tribune. E-mail him at ASiegel@eagletribune.com.