Knicks expect electric atmosphere at MSG

The NBA season, delayed by the lockout, like gift, is now wrapped and waiting underneath the Christmas tree.

The anticipation could drive a kid nuts, like waiting for Santa Claus.

But Amare Stoudemire isn’t planning to losing any sleep. After all, Knicks-Celtics is still a regular-season afternoon game.

“Hopefully I sleep for eight hours,” the Knicks' star forward said. “That’s the plan, to get a good night’s sleep before an early game. But it is one of those games that you’re constantly thinking about it. You want to win. You want to start the season off right.”

The brand-new Knicks, in the refurbished Madison Square Garden, almost guarantees a rabid crowd -- especially for a game against the Boston Celtics, who swept the Knicks last year in the first round of the playoffs.

“The emotion is definitely there,” Stoudemire said. “The adrenaline is pumping. The fans, the crowd is going to be ecstatic. It’s one of those times when your season opener happens to be on Christmas Day. That never happened before in my career.”

The five-month-long lockout, and the acquisitions of Tyson Chandler and Baron Davis, have left fans yearning for competitive basketball. And expectations have skyrocketed, with some people expecting the Knicks to contend for a championship. All those feelings are expected to saturate the atmosphere in the Garden on Sunday.

Stoudemire said Saturday that he expects the atmosphere will be “the same, if not even better” than the team's home playoff game against Boston this spring, the first at MSG in seven years.

Mike Bibby compared the expected atmosphere to playing in Sacramento when the Lakers came to town in the 2002 Western Conference Finals. Newly-acquired forward Steve Novak said he expected the game to be similar to when he played with the Houston Rockets and Chinese megastar Yao Ming matched up with Yi Jianlian of the Milwaukee Bucks for the first time in 2007. That game was broadcast on 19 television networks and was expected to have between 100 and 200 million viewers.

It’s unclear whether Novak will play tomorrow. The Knicks, in need of another 3-point shooter, signed Novak for the veteran minimum of $1.4 million on Wednesday. Whether he plays or not, Novak expects a unique experience.

“I know it’s going to be special,” he said. “I just can’t wait to get out there and hear and see the fans. It’s going to be like nothing else. I mean, I’ve played [at the Garden] but never had the fans behind me when I was there. I know that it’ll be special, being the game that it is and the day that it is.”