For players, early February is historically one of the most difficult stretches of the NBA season.
Since the end of October, they have traveled tens of thousands of miles, endured hundreds of hours of combined practice time and film sessions, played over half of the 82-game regular season schedule, and some, like the Knicks’ Raymond Felton and Amare Stoudemire, have logged over 1,700 minutes played.
The pair went into last night’s (Wednesday) game at Madison Square Garden versus the Dallas Mavericks among the top 20 in the league in the statistical category. Felton was eighth with 1817 (38.3 per game) and Stoudemire 20th with 1747 (37.2).
Their tired bodies crave the start of the All-Star Game break, although Stoudemire will be a starter for the Eastern Conference. But there is still a lot of work of to do before that time arrives. The Knicks have to play six more games until they begin their vacation on February 17.
They were 25-22 prior to hosting the Mavericks and holding on to the sixth spot in the east, a few games ahead of the seventh place Philadelphia 76ers, who they will meet tomorrow night on the road.
The Knicks’ journey has been longer than nearly every team in the league. They opened the pre-season on October 3 in Milano, Italy, and then played an exhibition game in Paris versus the Minnesota Timberwolves three days later.
The toll of the long grind shows. Stoudemire frequently can be seen with both knees wrapped in ice. The hard charging Felton often grimaces from aches and pains. And others are dealing with assorted bumps and bruises. Nevertheless, the fruit of their labor has been sweet.
After years of futility, with Stoudemire as the lead dog and Felton as one of the main sled pullers, the Knicks are once again relevant and on the path towards the playoffs.
“I’m having my best season in my career,” said Felton at the Garden on Sunday night. “I have to give all that to my team… My teammates have been great.”
Stoudemire is one of the leading NBA MVP candidates and Felton, averaging 17.2 points and 8.9 assists as of Wednesday, is being considered as an All-Star selection for the first time in his six-years as a pro.