Opening Tip: Knicks' conditioning key?

Every weekday throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.

Today's Burning Question: How big a role did Mike Woodson's offseason conditioning program play in getting the Knicks to compete at a consistently high level?

After the Heat game, Tyson Chandler was asked what people learned about the Knicks on Thursday night. He said, "We're a deep team."

But there was something else: How well-conditioned the players are, which allowed them to jump out to a 85-67 lead with 3:05 to play in the third quarter.

"Our defense was solid in the third and fourth quarter, and then offensively," Mike Woodson said postgame. "I attribute a lot to our camp, guys, because we ran a lot in camp and our conditioning is right where we need to be from a conditioning standpoint. I thought that had a lot to do with our guys. They just didn't waver, they didn't get tired and they just kept pushing. When we got stops, we got the ball up the floor and we made plays."

Chandler said occasionally last season they didn't have enough manpower to put away teams in the second half. Since then, they've gone from negative-1.4 and plus-1.7 scoring margins in the third and fourth quarter, respectively, to plus-1.6 and plus-2.7 for those periods.

"That was the thing that we struggled with all last year, even when we had every player healthy, we still didn't have enough," he said. "Teams would wear us down in the fourth quarter and we would struggle. But now we've got guys that can come off the bench and contribute, and it really helps."

A phrase that Woodson used at the start of the season, "guys are in great shape" -- from Raymond Felton to Carmelo Anthony to Kurt Thomas -- has definitely proved to be accurate. During his exit interviews last spring, he provided his current players an offseason conditioning plan, and then during pre-training camp and in the early stages of actual camp, Woodson focused mostly on intense running. A couple of players felt the effects of it then, but now that hard work is paying off.

Their improved conditioning has enabled the Knicks to pick up the pace throughout every game, controlling the tempo on most nights. It's also prevented them from having too many drop-offs on defense. To rotate quickly and effectively, you can't be tired. Defense is mostly a mental game based on effort and energy, and when you're tired, it always affects how you make reads. As LeBron James said after the Knicks' loss, "We're more reactive now than proactive." In addition, the Knicks still have their legs under them late in games to hit shots.

All of these things were on display Thursday night.

What impressed you most about the Knicks' level of play against the Heat, and overall this season? Leave us your comments below.

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