NEW YORK -- When Tyson Chandler became a Knick in early December, he did so because he believed the team had what it took to win a championship. For a player who was coming off of a title run with the Mavericks, he didn't want to have it any other way.
Even when the Knicks struggled in January, losing nine of 11 games, Chandler's championship dreams with the Knicks didn't fade away.
At the time, Chandler said, "In all honestly, I still feel like this is a team that can win a championship. I feel like we definitely have the pieces. I feel like we haven’t come together yet. It’s a process."
That process is starting to come together under Mike Woodson. The interim head coach improved to 6-1 following the Knicks' 101-79 win over the Pistons on Saturday at the Garden. But what hasn't changed in the past month is the team is still fighting to stay alive as the eighth seed.
Chandler said they let one slip away at the Air Canada Center on Friday because they didn't come out with the energy they needed to. So on the flight back from Toronto, the Knicks' manager of player security, who the players call "Big Max," had the idea that Chandler should bring his championship ring to the game Saturday night against the Pistons for extra motivation.
And that's just what he did, speaking to the team pregame about the makings of a champion.
"He talks a lot about sacrifice, defense and just putting everything aside in terms of individual stuff, whether it's off the court, on the court, egos, roles, whatever," Jeremy Lin said. "He just talks about how we have to just buy in and only care about the team and the team only."
In addition to the ring inspiration, the Knicks inserted a printed image of the Larry O'Brien Trophy above every player's locker.
Chandler's energy in his pregame speech carried over on the court as his 15 points and a season-high 17 rebounds helped New York maintain its 1½ game lead over the Bucks for the final playoff spot in the East.
Here is some of the players with their reaction:
Lin: "Definitely something that we want to start thinking about and building towards."
Carmelo Anthony: "They’re inspiring. They’re motivating just to see that. It gives us something to look up at, to look forward to. It lets us know where we want to be at and how much work it’s going to take for us to get there."
Amare Stoudemire: "I'm a visual guy, so I love to see it. So whenever you've got those types of trophy posters over your locker, it gives you that visual that you can achieve that goal. It's great to see."
Iman Shumpert: "If you can't get motivated by that, I feel sorry for you."
The Knicks know what they're up against looking ahead because they've put themselves right on the ledge of the playoff hunt. And on Monday against Milwaukee, it doesn't get any easier. Even though they got blown out by the Pacers tonight, 125-104, Anthony called the upcoming matchup "a real big game for us."
"We are fighting for that eighth spot," he said. "We need that game. We are going to do everything in our power to get that game.
Stoudemire agreed completely with his star sidekick.
"It's very important for us," he said. "We are trying to make a run and do something special."
While Stoudemire has been to the playoffs seven times (three to the Western Conference Finals), the image of the trophy above his locker will just be another reminder about what has eluded him in his career.
And a reminder of the goal the team set out to accomplish at the start of the season.
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