Marcus Morris
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The New York Knicks may not make the playoffs in 2019-20, but they still might be the most confident team in the NBA.

Josh Benjamin

The New York Knicks won’t make the playoffs this season and their confidence is why it doesn’t even matter.

Some devoted readers surely think, “Okay, Josh. You’ve lost it this time. You’re getting fitted for a straightjacket and a padded room.”

Relax, people. I’m perfectly lucid and coherent. I’ll say it again; it doesn’t matter if the Knicks don’t make the postseason in 2019-20 because regardless of record, they’re shaping up to be one of the NBA’s most confident team.

Granted, this will be hard for some New Yorkers to hear. The Knicks have one playoff series win since 2001. Team news reads more like a daytime soap opera than it does a basketball story. New Yorkers have high standards and expect results, and the Knicks have been plain disappointing.

Not anymore. These Knicks may be prepared for another losing season, but won’t bend to tanking to accept its fate. Marcus Morris guaranteed this in New York’s preseason opener against the Washington Wizards when he received a Flagrant 2 for bopping Justin Anderson on the head with the ball.

The Knicks will lose the hard way in 2019-20 because, at long last, this team has its swagger back.

New York swagger

Merriam-Webster defines “swagger” as “bold or brash self-confidence,” and this perfectly describes today’s Knicks. Morris, who once was ejected and gave the ref a playful butt slap while playing for the Boston Celtics, is just the tip of the iceberg. This will be a team effort, and even Morris implied though.

“We’re not taking any s***,” Morris said following his ejection Monday, per Frank Isola of The Athletic. Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic added he had heard one of Morris’ teammates say, “It’s bully season.”

Now, look at some other players on the Knicks’ roster. Julius Randle was New York’s prize free agency addition, and he’s built like a Mack truck at 6-foot-9, 250 pounds. He has the starting power forward’s job locked down and won’t be afraid to get his hands dirty in the paint.

Meanwhile, Bobby Portis has embraced an underdog’s mentality his entire career. Taj Gibson, even in the twilight of his career at age 34, is still a strong rim protector and grew up in Brooklyn. He grew up watching the tough ’90s Knicks teams and will bring the same mentality onto the court this year.

The win total may be low, but the swagger will be the highest its been in over 20 years.

The throwback Knicks

Dateline: New York City; 1994. The city is in a bad spot economically, but it’s okay. The New York Knicks are playing their best basketball since the 1970s and seem destined for the NBA Finals.

The bad news is something every Knicks fan knows. New York made it to the finals, but lost a hard-fought seven-game series to the Houston Rockets.

Now, think about how the Knicks enjoyed so much success in the ’90s. Charles Oakley was a strong enforcer in the paint and never backed down in battle.  Anthony Mason was one of the best on-ball defenders coming off of New York’s bench. Patrick Ewing was a Hall of Fame center and John Starks would stand up to anybody, including Michael Jordan.

And even though the Knicks never won a championship in the ’90s, the fight for one was always there, even after 1994. Latrell Sprewell’s energy was electrifying and Allan Houston’s quiet confidence was infectious. Marcus Camby, though skinnier than Olive Oyl, was an absolute monster on defense.

The point is seeing the Knicks show little to no fight in a game was rare back then, which makes recent history all the more jarring. For context, the Knicks’ average margin of defeat in the 1994 NBA Finals was only 4.75 points. Across the entire postseason, they only lost games by an average of 7.36 points.

By comparison, the Knicks last year won 17 games and allowed just 9.2 points more than they scored. Even in defeat, New York played hard for coach David Fizdale.

Given the makeup of the current team, fans should expect more of the same.

Final thoughts

This isn’t to say fans should expect the Knicks to play defense worthy of getting their own Slap Shot spinoff movie. The game has changed to the point where high-volume scoring near-outpaces all types of defense.

Rather, think of New York as former boxer Chuck Wepner, the Bayonne Bleeder. Wepner wasn’t much of a name in his career but made headlines when he fought Muhammad Ali for the WBC and WBA Heavyweight titles in 1975.

Ali retained his championships, but only after winning via a TKO with seconds remaining in the 15th and final round. Wepner ensured that even in victory, Ali would know he was just in a fight.

Based on one preseason game, the Knicks have the same mentality. It won’t be a pretty season and some losses will be heavy, but New York will never back down. It’s all to send one important message to opposing teams, who’d better be listening.

Bring your A-game and nothing else when you face the Knicks, or they’ll make you pay for doubting them.

 

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