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Tyson Chandler is Knicks' ringleader

NEW YORK -- Point guard Jeremy Lin may have the spotlight these days for the New York Knicks, but Tyson Chandler runs the locker room.

"Tyson is an awesome leader. He's a great vet, takes care of everybody, includes everybody," Lin said Wednesday on "The Michael Kay Show" on ESPN New York 1050.

"He just brought me along quickly and kind of took me under his wing, taught me a lot about his experience playing with Chris Paul and other point guards. He's just been non-stop giving me advice and that's why we developed a great chemistry."

That chemistry isn't limited to Lin, the Harvard graduate who has taken the NBA by storm.

Coach Mike D'Antoni calls Chandler "the perfect teammate." Iman Shumpert says his energy is "contagious." Steve Novak calls him a "tone-setter." According to his teammates, Chandler's locker room presence has been just as valuable as any of his rebounds or blocked shots.

"He's very vocal," Amare Stoudemire said. "When everybody's focused and quiet, Tyson comes in, yells, 'Let's go!' and brings the energy. That's something we need. We feed off of that."

Chandler -- who will face his former Dallas Mavericks teammates at the Garden on Sunday -- also leads by example. D'Antoni said the 7-footer's selfless play was a key to the Knicks' seven-game winning streak, which ended Friday.

"The thing I like [about the winning streak] is the spirit, and Tyson is a big part of that. Just the willingness to sacrifice everything to get a win. And that's why he won a championship in Dallas," the coach said Tuesday after a dramatic victory in Toronto.

Of course, the Knicks didn't pay Chandler $52 million over four seasons solely for his leadership qualities.

Last season, D'Antoni's crew ranked 21st in defensive efficiency. The Knicks were 26th in opponent field goal percentage and allowed an average of 45.4 points in the paint, the fifth-highest total in the league.

If there was a glaring weakness on a team supposedly built to contend in the Eastern Conference, it was on defense.

When Chandler arrived in December, he pledged to change all of that. One of his first goals, he said, was to get "everybody thinking defense."

Mission accomplished. The Knicks rank eighth in defensive efficiency despite having two superstars, Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, who aren't known as strong defenders.

"He's been our leader back there," D'Antoni said of Chandler, who averaging 9.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. "He's changed everything."

Things have also changed for the team he left. The defending champion Mavericks initially struggled to adjust to life without Chandler. They've rebounded from a slow start and will enter the Garden with a six-game winning streak, but their defense has taken a hit. Last season, they ranked eighth in defensive efficiency with Chandler at center. This year, they are 16th.

According to Novak, who spent part of last season in Dallas with Chandler, the Mavericks lost more than a solid defensive presence when Chandler left town. Novak said Chandler, along with a few other vets, "set the tone" in Dallas.

Now, he's doing it in New York.

"I just try be positive with my teammates but also hold them accountable to do what I know they're capable of. I try to be consistent with that," Chandler says. "I think they obviously respect me for doing it."

And why wouldn't they? They know what he accomplished last season.

"Last year it was an unbelievable run; we got a championship out of it," he says. "I just hope to bring the same thing here."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.