NEW YORK -- When it comes to gaining respect for Vince Carter, it wasn't the dunks, the 3-pointers, the buzzer-beaters or the hype that won Jeff Van Gundy over.
It was Carter's humanity.
At the All-Star game in February, Van Gundy was the coach and Carter was the starting small forward on the Eastern Conference team. A day or two before the game, Carter pulled Van Gundy aside in the lobby of the team hotel and took him on a short walk to meet his parents.
"I thought it was very unusual that a guy, and I didn't even know him at all, would take the time to take me around to meet them," Van Gundy said Friday. "I thought it showed the class that he has. I thought it showed great respect toward his parents and great respect toward me."
The many facets of Carter's game also are worthy of respect, but that doesn't mean the Knicks will be backing down from him.
On the contrary, one of the schemes the Knicks plan to employ is to stick a defender as close to Carter as possible. If that means getting burned on drives to the basket, the secondary defenders will have to help out -- either by blocking his shot or forcing him to take a bad shot or make a pass.
In the Raptors' minds, they expect rough treatment from those help defenders. They expect Carter -- along with starting guards Tracy McGrady and Doug Christie -- to get knocked around.
"We've been giving them hits in practice so that when they get hit in the game they'll have been through it," Raptors forward Charles Oakley said.
"That's not our plan, to knock him down, it's to not give him too much space," Knicks assistant coach Brendan Malone said.
Van Gundy is keeping the specifics of his defensive plan a secret. He could elect to put Larry Johnson on Carter as he did during the first quarter of the last game between the teams, or he could have Latrell Sprewell defend Carter despite his limited success in that role earlier this season.
Whoever the coach chooses will have his hands full because Carter can hurt an opponent in so many ways. Van Gundy gained an extra appreciation for Carter's talents by coaching him in the All-Star game.
"When you're sitting on the same sideline, you do notice more than when you're coaching against him the unique abilities he has -- the athleticism combined with the skill level," Van Gundy said.
"There's not too many guys who can run and jump like him who also shoot 40 percent on 3-pointers and who also can pass and not turn the ball over, run a pick and roll, handle the ball as a point forward, go in the post or shoot the pull-up jump shot. So he's got a unique package."
When the series begins Sunday, the Raptors are expected to try to use Carter in the low post more than they have in the past, although that strategy would figure to work better against Sprewell than Johnson.
So far, everything the Knicks have tried against Carter has failed.
He scored 30, 29, 33 and 34 in the four games between the teams, three of which were decisive victories by Toronto.
"I think this team is more prepared than people might think," Allan Houston said.
Carter finished fourth in the NBA in scoring with 25.7 points per game after being the top vote-getter for the All-Star game and winning the slam dunk contest.
He is the new darling of NBC, and this series will share top billing on that network with the Kings-Lakers series.
"Vince is a good player," Patrick Ewing said. "In a lot of ways he's like Michael (Jordan), but he's not Michael. Michael is Michael. I'm not saying he's not going to be better than Michael one day, but right now he's not Michael."
And for the Knicks, that's trouble enough.