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Knicks heading in right direction

Jaime C. Harris | 4/12/2011, 4:44 p.m.

After years of failure on the court and turbulence off of it, the 2010-11 season has been a revival of sorts for the Knicks.

The franchise has been stabilized under the stewardship of Donnie Walsh, a basketball sage who has made astute personnel and business decisions since assuming the role of team president in April of 2008.

As the Knicks begin their All-Star Game break after facing the Atlanta Hawks at the Garden last night (Wednesday) they are on a course toward their first playoff appearance since the 2003-04 season. Head coach Mike D'Antoni had the Knicks holding the sixth overall spot in the Eastern Conference at 27-26 prior to hosting the Hawks at Madison Square Garden.

On more the one occasion, D'Antoni has reminded Knicks followers that "We are a work in progress" and have "a lot of room for improvement."

The areas the Knicks must sure up are obvious. They were 29th out 30 teams in defense, allowing 106.1 points per game, an unacceptable number for a squad with post-season aspirations.

Rebounding is an issue as well. They started the week with a -3.6 rebound differential, fourth worst in the league.

Historically, two common components of a championship contender are strong defense and solid rebounding. The Knicks must address these deficiencies moving forward to become an upper echelon team.

Yet the positives outweigh the negatives. Signed as free-agents last summer, Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton have exceeded expectations. Both have been among the best players at their position in the Eastern Conference, and in Stoudemire's case the entire NBA.

Second in the league in scoring as of yesterday at 26.1 points per game, he was selected as a starter for this Sunday's All-Star Game.

Arguably the biggest surprise is rookie guard Landry Fields. The 6-7 second round pick from Stanford was averaging 10.1 points per game and 7.1 rebounds - second on the team - from the shooting guard position. He has also played and started in every Knicks game this season. Felton is the only other Knick to have done so.