Center Patrick Ewing vows the Knicks will win the championship
this season, a declaration most Knicks fans regard as similar to
a Manhattan cabbie's guarantee of a leisurely ride--it's nice to
hear but hard to take seriously. Ewing's victory promises have
become more a source of humor than inspiration, because he and
the Knicks rarely make good on them. The Psychic Friends Network
has a higher rate of accuracy.

But this time we are prepared to climb out on a limb with Ewing.
It may be that we believe more in the law of averages than in
the Knicks, but we think New York will finally fulfill Ewing's
13-year quest for his first NBA title. The Bulls' apparent
vulnerability (page 130) isn't the only factor in the Knicks'
favor. Here are some others:

Allan Houston is ready to have a breakout year. Houston, the
Knicks' shooting guard, hasn't fully recovered from off-season
surgery on his right wrist, which could limit his shooting range
for at least the first few weeks of the season and is partly why
the team made a deal with Boston for swingman Chris Mills on
Oct. 22. But at the end of last year, his first with New York,
Houston finally began to feel comfortable enough to establish
himself as the team's second-best offensive option, after Ewing.
"It took Allan some time to realize that he had the freedom to
make things happen in the offense," says guard Chris Childs.

Houston is one of the few Knicks with the ability to take a
defender one-on-one and get a basket or a trip to the foul line,
where he is an 82.5% career shooter.

Chris Dudley will let Ewing rest. Dudley, obtained in a
three-way deal with Portland and Toronto, is one of the best
backup centers in the league. He's a reliable rebounder and
first-rate defender who will allow New York coach Jeff Van Gundy
to keep Ewing, 35, fresh for the postseason. He also frees Buck
Williams from having to fill in at center, so Williams can
concentrate on teaming with Charles Oakley to form one of the
better power forward tandems in the league.

They are motivated. New York was playing as well as any team in
the playoffs last year before they committed one of the most
boneheaded acts in postseason history. Ewing, Houston, John
Starks and Larry Johnson were each hit with a one-game
suspension for leaving the bench during a brawl against Miami
that involved Charlie Ward--who was also suspended for a game.
The incident led to the Knicks' blowing a 3-1 series lead. "It's
a painful memory, but it's a good one for us to have," says
Starks. "We let something get away from us, and we want to make
up for it."

They are experienced. It's true that the Knicks are old. After
dealing point guard Scott Brooks and forwards Dontae' Jones,
Walter McCarty and John Thomas for Mills, New York's youngest
player is Houston, at 26. But old teams win titles. The last
several champions--the Bulls, the Rockets, the Pistons and the
Lakers--all had a core of thirtysomething veterans who had been
together for years, as New York does with Ewing, Oakley, 33, and
Starks, 32.

The Knicks have their flaws, of course. They begin the season
with a banged-up backcourt, with Ward, anointed as the starting
point guard (stress fracture in his right leg), Childs
(fractured left eye socket) and Starks (left ankle sprain) all
having missed parts of the preseason. Despite the Knicks'
experience, the team can be erratic. They led the league in
turnovers, which is inexcusable for a team that runs so
infrequently, and they were 32-9 against clubs with sub-.500
records, a mark they will have to improve if they are to seize
home court advantage in possible Eastern Conference playoff
matchups with Miami and Chicago.

That inconsistency was due in part to the fact that Childs,
Houston, Johnson and Williams were new to New York. "We talked
about winning last year, but in the back of our minds, everyone
believes this is the year we're supposed to win a championship,"
Williams says. "I think this is the year." So does Ewing, who
delivered his latest guarantee with a smile and a wink. He
wasn't taking his prediction seriously, which is ironic because
this time everyone should.