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JUST LIKE OLD TIMES FOR MIKE FOR an evening, for a game, for a few fleeting, blissful hours, Mike D'Antoni was allowed to ponder what life could be like while reminiscing about what it used to be like.

For one improbable evening, his Knicks played like his Suns used to play, and in the sweetest confluence of time and place, they did it against the Suns he used to coach.

Once they walked off the floor, leaving behind this 126-99 thumping of what had been the best team in Basketball at the start of the night, the Knicks understood that they would be heading off in a different direction from the team they'd just vanquished.

The Suns still fancy themselves players in the Western Conference, and with reason, even if they slapped a gross of postage stamps on this ugly effort; the Knicks are merely players for a hefty roster overhaul come July 1. It's still better to be D'Antoni's former team than his current one.

One night doesn't change that. And no one was quicker to concede this than the coach himself.

"Let's see if we can do it for four or five games in a row, or for a 10-game stretch," D'Antoni said. "Hopefully, this is a sign of better things to come. But for now it's just one night, one game."

Still, for D'Antoni, and for his team, it was a blessed reminder of what is still achievable within the framework of this partnership. Maybe it takes a perfect storm to yield those results now - one part career night by Danilo Gallinari (27 points, 10 rebounds), one part throwback night by Larry Hughes (12 assists), three parts no-show by a listless opponent that seemed 2,000 miles away from the Garden.

But this is the plan. This is what seven-seconds-or-less is supposed to look like when it's done right.

This is the picture, and the feeling, that D'Antoni wants to emulate when this two-year tour of purgatory concludes at season's end. This was his 100th game as the Knicks coach, and in many ways the first in which he was truly able to display the possibilities that lay beyond. Knicks fans spend a lot of time daydreaming during a lot of lost, forgettable nights at the Garden; they're allowed to enjoy a real dream every now and again, right?

Before the game, someone had asked D'Antoni how closely he'd been following the Suns, the team that gave him what most coaches spend their entire careers searching for: players who mesh magnificently with system, physics paired perfectly with philosophy.

"I've got enough problems in New York," he said. "I can't worry about anyone else."

He smiled as he said this, the kind of wider-than-it-should-be, brighter-than-it-should-be smile we'd seen an awful lot through those first 99 games. Later the smile would grow broader as his team started swishing 3s and running the floor and exploiting a Suns defense with more holes in it than Tiger Woods' story.

For a night, the Garden was filled with laughter and with cheers, even to the end as the Knicks became the first team to keep the Suns out of triple digits this year.

"When you move the ball, get good shots, play defense, that's what's possible," D'Antoni said. "It's good to see it pay off."

It hasn't been a perfect marriage between coach and team, not always, not yet. D'Antoni is impulsive and impetuous out of the Pro-Style Pitino Mode sometimes, and his team has suffered for it.

But even on their worst nights, the Knicks play hard for him, they certainly play offense for him, enough that the true fans who still watch on television and in person are allowed to fantasize now and again about what a roster filled with real NBA players might do with D'Antoni's Xs and his Os.

"We're getting there," D'Antoni said. "I really believe that."

For an evening, for a game, for a few fleeting, blissful hours, he could say that with a straight face. And actually believe it.

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: December 3, 2009


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