Knicks taking on new identity

This wasn’t supposed to be the story of the New York Knicks. This a team winning with depth, balance and a rugged work ethic. No stars, just players.

This can’t be the Knicks.

But at the moment, it is.

On successive nights vs. the Indiana Pacers, the Knicks won despite pedestrian statistical lines by their stars -- Carmelo Anthony (16 points, four rebounds on Saturday night) and Amare Stoudemire (16 points, eight rebounds).

On successive nights, the Knicks won by being the harder-working and more physical team. They started the victories with their defense, topping them off with timely shooting and constant effort.

On successive nights, the Knicks defeated the Pacers by overwhelming them with numbers. “We kinda wore ‘em out with their depth. You saw the plus-minuses of the bench. When they come in, they’re kind of flyin’ around, and that takes a lot out of the team,” said Jeremy Lin -- who took a lot out of the Pacers himself with 19 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.

The Knicks reserves outscored Indiana 34-17, but it wasn’t the scoring that was impressive. Sure, the back-to-back threes by J.R. Smith grab your attention, but what holds it was the way they changed the tenor of the game. No, not just the tenor, but the very nature of the game.

“We eased into tonight’s game. Wasn’t on purpose, just took us a little while to get going,” said Tyson Chandler when asked about the first quarter. “Eased” is probably a little generous. The Knicks allowed 35 first-quarter points on 60 percent shooting.

But once the bench hit the floor, the Knicks became the team that beat the Pacers last night. In the first three quarters of Friday night’s win, New York held Indiana to 58 points and an offensive efficiency of 80.5.

In the last three quarters of Saturday night’s win, they allowed only 53 points and an identical offensive efficiency of 80.5.

“(The bench) were fantastic. They’ve been great in this whole stretch. We believe in them … I believe in them,” said Knicks coach Mike Woodson.

Outside of New York -- and maybe even inside New York to a large extent -- everyone assumed that the story of a successful Knicks team would feature tales of derring-do by Melo and Amare. However, Woodson’s squad is a surprising team. This very good Knicks team over the last three games has really been the story of Chandler and the bench.

“I expected to anchor this team, honestly, especially defensively,” said Chandler. “We have to use our horses. We have to use Carmelo. We have to use Amare, but we can’t allow teams to just know where we’re going every night. We have to have contributors like J.R. (Smith), myself, (Steve) Novak.”

And the last two games, they’ve gotten them. They’ve won the last two games in a style expected more from Philly and Indy. Of course, the question remains, is it sustainable?

Chandler believes so. “I definitely think we can, because I think this is the identity that we should have had all year.”

If he's right, then the Knicks may be building the best of both worlds -- a deep, balanced roster that boasts star power as well.

And if this really is the story of the 2012 Knicks, then the rest of the Eastern Conference should probably be afraid. Very afraid.