Yes, they're really back. Amar'e Stoudemire came to New York last summer, and defiantly promised that "The Knicks Are Back." Well, he backed up his bold words, by leading his team to the playoffs, which wasn't as easy as it looked. Ok, it didn't really look easy, but the New York Knicks haven't sniffed the postseason in seven years, so that accomplishment was no small feat. The former Knicks who are now in Denver deserve some of the credit. Guys who have been here all year, like Landry Fields and Toney Douglas, deserve some of the credit. The new guys--Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and the rest--deserve some of the credit, and Anthony has recently had a string of games combining his pure talent with defensive effort and leadership, which is what will be asked of him on a consistent basis here in New York. But it's Stoudemire who put the team on his back for most of the season and resurrected the franchise. And there were no excuses or hiding in the clubhouse for him. James Dolan was so thrilled with his team clinching a playoff spot with the victory over Cleveland that he jumped on the first plane to Florida to give Isiah Thomas a hug. The Knicks have been doing nothing but winning lately, even if it has been against some of the dregs of the league, but they held on to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers to take over the sixth spot in the standings. But just as they were getting an extra bounce in their step, Stoudemire and Billups are banged up once again. But that's just a mere detail, as the New York Knicks will actually be playing in the playoffs this year. And most likely for years to come.
And now on to the other top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Black and Blue All Over: After defeating nemesis Philadelphia in a shootout on Sunday, the New York Rangers played their most important, most exciting, most improbable, most gritty, most unbelievable game of the year on Monday, in their comeback win over the Boston Bruins. After falling behind 3-0, the Blueshirts scored an unfathomable (for the offensively challenged , that is) five unanswered goals to come out on top in the must-win game. That was a classic "willing-your-way-to-a-win" victory. Though they've all been must-wins lately for the Rangers, but that was the must-win-iest. Unfortunately, the victory came with a price, as Ryan Callahan broke his ankle when he did what Ryan Callahan always does--blocked a shot. But it wasn't just any shot, it was a Zdeno Chara shot. The hardest shot in the world. Callahan epitomizes all that is good about the 2011 Rangers, and on Thursday, instead of "winning one for Ryan," the Blueshirts mysteriously played without any sense of urgency or passion and not very Callahan-y at all. How can they let that happen? Now their fate is no longer on their own hands, and the season will come down to the final day once again.
The Blueprint: Coming into the season, the strengths of the New York Yankees were their offense, their bullpen and CC Sabathia, with the rest of the starting rotation one big question mark. Well, after the first week of play their offense is playing home run derby, Sabathia's picking up right where he left off last year, the rest of the rotation hasn't really been as shaky as advertised (even A.J. Burnett has looked good and hasn't shown up with a black eye yet) and their relievers have been in complete shutdown mode giving the team a formidable force for the final three innings of ball games--that is, except for Rafael Soriano's meltdown on Tuesday. And then he compounded his poor outing by pulling a Carmelo Anthony-like disappearing act after the game. Sure, he later apologized after the Yankee brass gave him a stern, fatherly talking to, but doesn't he read SB Nation New York? After six games, the only negatives have been one bad Phil Hughes performance and one bad Soriano performance, otherwise, what's not to like?
Cautiously Optimistic or Pessimistically Panicking? The optimistic big picture for the New York Mets? They began the season with six road games against division rivals that were thought to be better than them, and they came out of those half a dozen games with a split. Not bad. The pessimistic view? The three losses were unmitigated disasters, which fueled the fire for the "Mets are a laughingstock" bandwagoners. Their No. 1 guy, Mike Pelfrey, is the team's worst starter by far (at least so far, though Jon Niese gave him a run for his money on Thursday). Pelfrey has been bad from top to bottom, inside and out. He's shaky, panicky and wholly unconfident. That botched bunt play that put the cherry on top of his disaster in Philadelphia on Wednesday epitomized his lack of composure on the mound. A 15.63 ERA was not what the Mets had in mind for their pitcher who just missed out as an All-Star selection less than a year ago. R.A. Dickey and Chris Young, on the other hand, were outstanding in their outings, and Young even made team history with his offense. Other things to like about this year's Mets: Willie Harris, Ike Davis, Angel Pagan and Josh Thole. And we've learned early on that Terry Collins will consistently use all 25 players on his roster, and he'll manage aggressively and go for broke when the opportunity presents itself. And we've learned these Mets won't give up, as they came storming back to win the last two games in the series against the Marlins, and clawed their way back into the game against the Phillies after Pelfrey took the wind out of their sails from the get-go. But doing it two games in a row, and down 11-0? Well, that might be asking for too much. Ralph Kiner throws out the first ball in the Mets' home opener on Friday afternoon, so maybe he'll bring the team some good luck.
Better or Worse? The season is winding down for the New Jersey Nets, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils. Now the question is: Were they better than last year? For the Nets, the answer is an obvious "yes." With their dramatic win on Tuesday, with Deron Williams hitting the last-second game-winning shot (after piling up a career-high-tying 21 assists), the team has doubled their win total from last season, and even have three teams below them in the Eastern Conference standings. Their future hinges on whether Williams stays or goes, though. For all their growth and strides taken this year, the Islanders will end up with fewer points than a season ago, when they had 79. It doesn't seem like it, though, does it? Chalk that up to the horrible first few months of the season. Is the team better this year than last? Absolutely. And will they be better next year? It looks promising. As for the Devils, the impossible dream portion of the year aside, they didn't come close to last season or the lofty expectations that were foisted on them for this year. In fact, this will end up being their worst season in 20 years. There's no way around it--this season was not good for the Devils. They'll have Zach Parise back next year (we think), but who will coach? Their future is one big question mark. It is, of course, doubtful they'll repeat their nightmarish start next season, so they have that going for them. And they get one more chance to stick it to the Rangers on Saturday.
Random Opening Week Notes: The first week of baseball season is complete, and here a few first impressions of the first seven days for the Mets and Yankees: Clarence Clemons played the National Anthem in Florida at the Met opener, but it sounded suspiciously like "Racing in the Street" . . . Brad Emaus, wearing jersey No. 4, looks a lot like a very young Ron Swoboda . . . After a long winter, it's a pleasure to listen to Gary, Keith and Ron once again . . . Mark Teixeira is a golden god . . . It looks like the Yankees bullpen will be as good as advertised, as long as Soriano keeps his head together . . . Mariano Rivera is a robot or an alien, it's the only explanation . . . Is Yankee Stadium reverting back to its 2009 home-run derby persona? Can stadiums have good and bad years? . . . The young, unflustered Josh Thole is the Michael Sauer of the Mets . . . What was Brian Cashman thinking when he strangely and alarmingly called out his own incompetence by piling on with some more Met bashing and blamed his crosstown rival for abusing Pedro Feliciano, which all kind of blew up in the Yankee GM's face? . . . The early signs are good for Burnett, will he keep it up? . . . The opposite is true of Pelfrey, will he ever fulfill his potential? . . . Jose Reyes vowed to walk more this season, but his total so far? Zero . . . While David Wright is still striking out as much as last season (eight in six games) . . . D.J. Carrasco's socks are a controversial topic of conversation: Love 'em or hate 'em? . . . Today is the 37th anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's home run record. With the Barry Bonds trial coincidentally wrapping up, it just proves that Hammerin' Hank is still the real home run king.