NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Finally back on top of their division, all the New York Knicks keep hearing is that they are going to fall back.
Second in the Eastern Conference last season, now they're supposedly second-best in their own city.
One ESPN.com projection had them pegged for just 37 victories, which would be a 17-game nosedive in one season. The Knicks would be bothered, except they say they aren't paying attention.
And why should they?
"I'm not worried about people's opinions and whether we took a step back or stayed where we're at. Those are people's opinions," All-Star Carmelo Anthony said. "As players, as a team, we know what we have, we know what we can do. We know how good we can be, we just have to do it."
It's not that the Knicks are expected to be bad, it's just that a few other teams in the East look better. Miami is already on top, Chicago and Indiana both appeared to get stronger, and the Brooklyn Nets seized the basketball attention in New York over the summer when they traded for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce as part of a flurry of moves.
The Knicks were also busy, though their biggest transaction was a widely criticized deal with Toronto for Andrea Bargnani, coming off a miserable season. The Raptors couldn't wait to get rid of the former overall No. 1 pick, and the Knicks even threw in a first-round pick for him.
Whether the former 20-point per game scorer can relocate his game in New York is only one of the questions facing the Knicks. J.R. Smith and Amare Stoudemire, their Nos. 2 and 3 scorers, may not be ready for the start of the season after summer knee surgeries — Stoudemire's third in the last year. Steve Mills, surprisingly hired to replace general manager Glen Grunwald just five days before training camp, has to show he can do the job despite no previous experience in that role.
The biggest question is Anthony's future. The NBA's leading scorer can become a free agent next summer and the Knicks want to keep him, so this would be no time to experience that tumble that's being forecast.
They don't think they will. The Knicks won their first Atlantic Division title since 1994 last season and won a playoff series for the first time since 2000, and coach Mike Woodson never worries about whether he has enough now to build on that.
"I would never say that," Woodson said. "I mean, nobody thought we had enough last year. It was kind of the same air going into last season and I don't listen to that. My thing is, you still have to play the games, and we have a very competitive team, guys that have tasted some success the last two years here winning, and that's all I'm relying on."
Here are five things to watch with the Knicks:
AMARE'S AVAILABILITY: After he was limited to 29 games last season, the Knicks are determined to do whatever they can to have Stoudemire available for the playoffs, even if it means restricting him to fewer than 25 minutes per game. He was productive in those limited minutes last season, averaging 14.2 points in 23.5 per night.
CHANDLER'S CHANGES: Tyson Chandler is back to looking like himself again, regaining all his weight and muscle after dropping some 15 pounds late last season after an injury and struggling in the postseason. And the former Defensive Player of the Year wants to look different on offense, working on a jump shot after getting nearly all of his scoring at the rim.
CARMELO'S CHOICE: He has said he wants to stay in New York, but also that he wants to be a free agent. The Knicks can offer him millions more than any team and know how much Anthony loves being in the city. But they're also aware they need to make the organization stronger so he could see a chance to a championship here, and that is Mills' mandate.
ANOTHER 3 PARTY?: The Knicks set an NBA record with 891 3-pointers last season, but sometimes settled too much for the long jumpers and will need to make sure they have the right balance.
KEEP COOL: In Smith, Metta World Peace and even Anthony, who was one off the league lead in technical fouls last season, the Knicks have some players who can lose their heads. They'll have to make sure they don't let temporary losses of focus cost them.
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