When this NBA season began, Knicks fans, as well as the organization, were still recovering from a hangover of disappointment that the free-agent frenzy of the summer produced only one big catch for them – Amar’e Stoudemire.

Moreover, Stoudemire was a contingency signing when LeBron James and Chris Bosh wavered on becoming Knicks.

Now, the substantial optimism engulfing the franchise is warranted. There are still additions that need to be made to the house, but a solid foundation has been laid for the erection of a championship contender.

After hosting stopping the New Orleans Hornets at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, the Knicks have 23 games remaining before the post-season begins, including Friday’s match up at MSG versus the Cleveland Cavaliers.

By April 13, when they face the Boston Celtics on the road in their final game of the regular season, the Knicks expect to be a cohesive playoff team after overhauling their roster last week.

With all the moving parts, which includes the signing of 6-11 forward Jared Jeffries earlier this week, who appeared in 254 games for the Knicks, 135 as a starter, from 2006 to 2009, the process of players settling into their roles and the new additions grasping coach Mike D’Antoni’s complex offensive system must be accelerated.

But as the Knicks proved on Sunday in an identity shaping 91-86 win over the Miami Heat in enemy territory, strong defense and solid work on the defensive backboard is the great equalizer. Fundamentally, a first-rate defensive possession is consummated only when the opposition is held to one shot.

The Knicks, who have been a below average rebounding team this season – they ranked 16th in the 30 team NBA in rebounding percentage heading into Tuesday’s game versus the Magic in Orlando – held the Heat to only six offensive boards. Jeffries will help the Knicks improve in this category.

On the other end of the floor, Chauncey Billups revealed that he will be the nail to Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony’s hammers.

“He’s a key part their success for the future,” said the Heat’s Chris Bosh. Make that the immediate future.

“The passion and pride remains the same,” said the 34-year-old Billups of changing uniforms for the 6th time in his 14-year career.

“I’m always locked in, no matter how the game is going or how well I’m playing.”