New York Knicks Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton during a game at Madison Square Garden. Kidd and Felton are two veterans who have contributed to the Knicks' success this season. (Karen Wu/AP)

New York Knicks Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton during a game at Madison Square Garden. Kidd and Felton are two veterans who have contributed to the Knicks’ success this season. (Karen Wu/AP)

Despite a brief case of “Linsanity,” the New York Knicks have been less than stellar in recent years. But this year, there’s something special going on in New York that has vaulted the Knicks to the top of the Eastern Conference.

“They got two great point guards who are starting,” Howard Beck, who covers the NBA for the New York Times, told Bill Littlefield. “Jason Kidd, who’s obviously a Hall of Famer, and who is still playing at a high level despite being up there in years, at 39. And Raymond Felton, who was really good for the Knicks a few years back before they traded him. Those two guys have really settled the offense and they’re getting the most out of Carmelo Anthony.  And Anthony is playing at an MVP type of level. Things are looking really sharp.”

Jason Kidd, who won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, doesn’t have a reputation for high scoring but is shooting over 50 percent this season.

“We always think of Jason Kidd as one of the greatest point guards in NBA history because of his mastery of the past, and never as a scorer. The 3-point shots came to him late in his career. He’s worked with a shooting coach named Bob Tate who’s a great guy and a great shooting coach. And Bob Tate and Jason Kidd worked together very hard on this a few years back and Jason Kidd now has one of the better 3-point shots around. And if you leave him open as the Nets learned the other night, he will burn you.”

Kidd hit six of eight three-point shots on Tuesday night against the Nets in a close game that demonstrated the increasing rivalry between the New York teams.

“A lot of people say there’s no true rivalry until they meet in the playoffs, until they’ve had some real battles, some history,” Beck said. “I kind of tend to go the other way. Just being here in the midst of this having seen the two games between the teams, the fans are really going at each other over this thing in a way that never happened when the Nets were in New Jersey. I say the rivalry lives in the minds of the fans. What happens on the court matters, but if the fans are ripping each other and taking shots at each other, it’s on. I think the rivalry’s already quite healthy. And they’ve played two very close games too and that amps it up.”

Fans are on board with this new rivalry, and many are finally getting over the Knicks’ decision to trade Jeremy Lin.

“Winning is the bottom line. And the fact that the Knicks have been winning at a fantastic rate and lead the Eastern Conference means that pretty much all is forgiven. I’m sure there are still fans who feel they could have and should have kept Jeremy Lin. The Knicks are having such great success that I think people feel like, ‘you know, it was fun while it lasted, but good luck to him in Houston, and we like the guys we have.’”

With Kidd and Felton—and Carmelo Anthony—leading the Knicks, some question how the team dynamic will change when power forward Amar’e Stoudemire returns to the court.

“The Knicks have a losing record in the year-and-a-half that Amar’e and Carmelo Anthony have been teammates and on the court together. Every advanced statistic in the world shows that they are worse offensively and defensively when they’re on the court together. That’s going to create a little bit of a bump for them in terms of their chemistry and how well they can navigate that determines how successful this season will ultimately be.”

Regardless of future challenges, right now the team is fueling an old rumor that the NBA is healthier when the Knicks are strong.

“It’s one of the great clichés of New York and of the NBA that the NBA is better off when the Knicks are good,” Beck said. “The size of the market is so vast that it’s better to have a ton of people in the tri-state area tuned in than not. It’s just by sheer numbers. Does it really matter, ultimately? I don’t think so. We had all those years where the Lakers were collecting championships, and the NBA was doing just fine. Attendance and ratings were going up all the time. The Knicks haven’t won a championship in 40 years and the NBA has done nothing but grow, so I think the premise is a little bit overstated.  It’s a bit of a New York-centric premise.”