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Carmelo Anthony says anything less than a trip to the Eastern Conference finals would be ‘unacceptable’

Dec 24, 2012, 2:44 PM EDT

New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony keeps ball away from Brooklyn Nets Deron Williams in NBA game in New York Reuters

The Knicks have gotten off to a fantastic start this season, and one that is arguably better than most expected. The team is essentially still at the top of the Eastern conference standings — percentage points behind the Heat, but just one game back in the loss column, with two more wins.

And, let’s not forget that two blowout victories over Miami are a part of those 20 wins New York has piled up through its first 27 games.

Now that the team is somewhat proven, expectations are skyrocketing, especially in the number one media market in country. For better or for worse, the Knicks aren’t backing away from that, and Anthony is the one leading the charge.

In an interview with Stephen A. Smith of ESPN.com, Anthony spells out his vision for the Knicks this year, and the way he sees it, the team should be playing deep into the postseason, at the very least.

From Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com:

In an excerpt of SportsCenter’s Sunday Conversation, Smith asks Anthony what he thinks would constitute a successful season.

“Winning the division, getting out of the first round, getting to the Eastern Conference finals,” Anthony says. “I don’t see anything less than that.”

He adds that anything less than a trip to the conference finals is unacceptable.

“I’ll sit here and tell you right now, it’s unacceptable. With the guys we have, with the team we have, with the roster that we have, it’s unacceptable,” he says.

It’s a bit unusual for a team’s star player to come right out and declare a minimum ending point to his team’s season, and one that he would view as a breaking point for making it a success. But a closer look shows that Anthony really isn’t going out on much of a limb here with this one.

A quick scan of the East shows essentially what we knew heading into this season — that the conference isn’t all that deep, and once you get past Miami, New York and Chicago are the only teams that firmly belong in that second tier, and should be the ones battling it out for the honor to face the Heat in one of the postseason’s later rounds.

Chicago should be the only team that the Knicks have to worry about before meeting up with Miami, and that fear should be a legitimate one. The Bulls already give the Knicks fits, and will only be stronger once Derrick Rose returns to the lineup, which is expected to happen sometime near the league’s All-Star break in mid-February.

But should Chicago not finish with one of the top-three records in the East — which is a very real possibility, with Indiana improving, and with Atlanta always willing to pile up regular season wins for essentially no reason — the Bulls won’t be the Knicks’ problem in the playoffs, they’ll be the Heat’s, by virtue of a theoretical four-seed that would land them a date with Miami in the second round.

If things shake out that way, New York should have a relatively clear path to the Eastern Conference finals — which ultimately makes Anthony’s expectations extremely realistic.

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