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The always insightful Zach Lowe over at Grantland runs through the most serious contenders to the Heat in the Eastern Conference, and he targets the Knicks as the most legitimate contender, if they can find a way to turn around their shaky defense of late:

Alas: New York has been playing well-below-average defense after a stingy first dozen games. They're down to 15th in points allowed per possession, and they've been unwatchable defensively when Melo and the always flat-footed, switch-prone Stoudemire play together. The Knicks have allowed more than 109 points per 100 possessions when those two share the court, worse than the league's 30th-ranked defense, and Chandler's presence alongside them hasn't moved the needle at all. Units with Anthony at power forward and no Stoudemire haven't been much better since the start of the season, and for those to work well, Anthony's help defense along the back line has to be in top form.

Can they find that form? If they can, the Knicks are the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference.

Before skewering the Knicks' spotty defense, Lowe rightly praised their efficient offense, particularly how well Stoudemire, Anthony and Chandler have played on that end so far this season. But he's entirely right that if the Knicks can play even above average on the defensive end they become a far more serious threat, and with all due respect to the Pacers, Bulls, Celtics and Nets -- or maybe screw those guys, whatever your preference may be -- I still see them as the most legitimate challenge to Miami's Eastern Conference reign of terror.

It will be interesting to see how the Knicks come out of the post-All-Star break period. The team looked poised to take off before dropping three of four to close the unofficial first half of the season, including two kind of "What the #*%@?" games to the Wiz and Raptors, so it would be nice to see them set a different tone when things pick back up again Wednesday against the Pacers.

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Tags: Knicks
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