Today in New York the citizens are being extremely careful not to over-react or lose perspective or read too much into what just happened because that's not what they do. So the feeling is the Knicks will only win the next three NBA titles, or maybe four. It's all in the papers, and as you know, you can believe what you read.

If you don't trust what the New York headlines are saying, or rather screaming, then how about your eyes? Are they lying? Did you believe what they told you Thursday in Miami, when the Knicks asked the Heat to step outside?

"They kicked our ass," said LeBron James.

For the second time this season, the Knicks wiped out the defending champs and this time, on the Heat's floor and without both Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. They forced LeBron to put himself through a short practice after the game and had the MVP mumbling about needing to get better. Now the Knicks own the penthouse in the East and to paraphrase the great philosopher Rasheed Wallace, record don't lie. Quite predictably, this is causing a stir in a city that hasn't toasted an NBA championship in almost 40 years. At this point, New York only wants to know who the Knicks are whooping in June and by how many games.

Carmelo is winning the MVP, J.R. Smith is getting the Sixth Man award, Mike Woodson is a lock for Coach of the Year and Spike Lee is sweeping the Oscars. It's right there on the cover of the Post and the Daily News.

You know what's the really scary part? All of the above might actually happen.

"Hopefully," said Smith, "this says we are the real deal."

It's always risky to read too much into the NBA season before Christmas. The next five months can erase plenty of memories and forecasts and humble any team with a hot start. Does anyone remember who won the championship this time last year? Oh, yeah, that's right, they didn't hand one out.

That said … the Knicks, if nothing else, have established themselves as legit and the biggest threat to Miami in the East. And they've also shown, after two blowout wins, they can compete against the Heat. We'll stop right there because there's no telling what may happen once the post-season begins and the court shrinks and players like Raymond Felton will be asked to hit big shots in a Game Six or Seven.

It's not too early, though, to take stock of the East and get an idea where the season is headed and who will make LeBron James work hardest to defend his title. Then it becomes a fairly easy call. The Knicks aren't a fluke, nor are they going away anytime soon, and once they get fully healthy they're better equipped than anyone in the East to stand next to the Heat when the season's done.

Really, who's stopping them?

Nets? Brooklyn will argue the Knicks aren't even the best team in New York, let alone the East. That depends on how much stock you put into a Knicks' overtime loss in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. Without question, the Nets can cause matchup headaches for the Knicks. They bring a superstar guard, a scoring big man, a pair of rugged rebounders at the forward spots and decent talent off the bench. But unlike the Knicks, the Nets have had some sloppy nights and even disappeared. And not just Joe Johnson.

Hawks? Look, they're off to a terrific start, at least for a team that underwent a mini-overhaul last summer. But everyone suspects they're simply taking advantage of a generous early schedule. Anyway, you can't put too much faith in a team that's never been to the East finals and can't convince Josh Smith to stop taking 20-foot jumpers.

Bulls? Rose is finishing up his agility drills and will soon be cleared to scrimmage. All the Bulls need to do is play .500 ball until he returns. Then it's a matter of how much, if anything, Rose lost in terms of quickness and cutting. If that loss can be measured only in milliseconds, the Bulls will have plenty to say about the notion of a Knicks takeover. We won't know until the post All-Star break. Stay tuned.

Celtics? It's finally official. They're old. Or at least they're playing that way. This isn't the same team that took Miami to seven games last spring, and it doesn't have everything to do with Ray Allen leaving. There's still Rajon Rondo and plenty of pride, but that hasn't been enough, so far, to convince you the Celtics are taking a step closer to the wrecking ball, eventually.

Pacers? Who knew Danny Granger would be missed this much? Indiana isn't struggling just because their best scorer is limping. With the possible exception of David West and George Hill, everyone on the roster is underperforming. Either this isn't their year, or they've got some upside left when Granger returns.

That's it. Those are the flawed teams wrestling with the Knicks for the right to send a chill through Miami. However, don't dismiss or overlook one other factor. It could very well be the Knicks' greatest threat is from within.

Remember, they still must find room and a role for Stoudemire, and when he returns their fortunes can swing either way. Either he disrupts the flow and raises doubts about chemistry with Carmelo, or he blends in and makes the Knicks more dangerous and flexible.

That's why it's best to believe what you see after Christmas. Until then, go with your gut, or if you're real adventurous, fall in step with the vibe right now in New York. The Knicks put the Heat on alert Thursday with a 20-point pounding and, therefore, it's only proper that the city is making plans for a parade in June. Read all about it.