Knicks cruising into the playoffs.
Less than 48 hours after celebrating the franchise’s last championship team, the red-hot Knicks headed into Chesapeake Energy Arena, home of the Oklahoma City Thunder, with an 11-game winning streak on the line and seemingly some of the 1972-73 team's Championship spirit.
In what was like an old-school heavyweight fight, both teams traded blows and took punches, and to the surprise of just about everyone, the resilient Knickerbockers outgunned the defending Western Conference Champs 125-120, behind yet another masterpiece from Carmelo Anthony.
“A lot of people said we were going to lose this game,’’ Raymond Felton said. “That’s a great win. A great win against a great team in this building.”
Anthony’s franchise-record-tying streak of three straight 40-plus games may have ended, but he poured in 36 and became the first Knick since recent Hall-of Fame inductee Bernard King to score at least 35 points in four straight games.
As a bonus, Anthony moved ahead of Kevin Durant in the scoring race, as his 28.44 points per game narrowly edge Durant’s 28.35. However, the individual numbers right now are meaningless, as all that matters is the winning.
“One of the biggest wins we’ve had in a long time,” Anthony said after he outdueled Durant in the box-score and scoreboard. “To come out here, keep our composure, it’s a tough place to win.’’
There is no way to diminish this 12-game winning streak, which is the third longest in franchise history, behind only a 15-game run in 1993-94 and an 18-game stretch in 1969-70. During this current streak the Knicks have won by an average of more than 12 points, and they’ve trailed by double digits just once — by 10 points against Milwaukee.
Along the way they’ve also won six straight on the road in places such as Utah, Toronto, Boston, Miami, Atlanta and now Oklahoma City. The streak may pale in comparison to the memorable 27-game run made recently by the Heat, but during their streak Miami only beat six teams with records above .500.
After what the Knicks did Sunday afternoon against a fully-loaded Thunder team and crowd, the rest of the Eastern Conference should be on notice, especially the defending champs. The Knicks are playing their very best basketball at precisely the right time, with the playoffs in sight and with soon every game feeling exactly how it felt Sunday afternoon.
“This is a tough building to win in. It was like an old-school shootout with all the offense displayed. For our team, it was a great win,” said Coach Mike Woodson, who got his 68th win with the Knicks, securing the best 100-game start in franchise history.
The victory was also special because it marked the first time the franchise has reached 50 wins since the 1999-2000 season. In doing so they became the seventh team in the league to reach that plateau and their record against the other six is 8-6, with the help of a remarkable 6-0 record in Miami, Boston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
The focus now shifts to wrapping up their first division title since 1994. The magic number to clinch the Atlantic is down to just 1, and they can seal the division crown tonight against the Wizards on their home-floor.
As the playoffs loom, the Knicks maintain a 2 ½ game lead over the Pacers for the No. 2 seed in the East. But, the team is still seeking to get healthy and coach Woodson has maintained that his bigs--at least some of them--will be healthy again in the near future.
“I’m hoping that I can get some of those big bodies back,’’ he said this weekend. “We’ll get a better feel on Rasheed this week, get him on the court, moving around. If they do come back, we’ll weigh it as we come along. Nothing is set in stone. These guys are working to get back though.’’
Amare Stoudemire’s return to the court this season is in doubt, but the hope is that warhorses Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and Wallace can get back for the postseason. At the moment the Knicks are playing like they don’t need any help, but reinforcements come playoff time can only make this team even scarier.
Things seem to be coming together at the perfect time for these Knicks, and perhaps people will finally start taking notice.
“Our confidence would always have us believing that we’re one of the better teams in the N.B.A.,” Anthony said. “Right now what we’re doing hopefully is proving it to everybody.”