Knicks beat Wizards, lock up Atlantic Division title
The Knicks continued their storied stretch, as they knocked off the Wizards, 120-96, Tuesday night.
New York (51-26) ran its season-high winning streak to 13, while clinching the Atlantic Division crown for the first time since the 1993-94 season. Carmelo Anthony led the way with a game-high 36 points, as the Knicks basically led wire-to-wire. Anthony added eight rebounds and six assists, as he became the first player since Kobe Bryant in 2006-07 to notch at least 35 points in five straight games.
Anthony’s scoring streak was about the only drama, as the outcome was never in doubt. The Knicks fell into a 2-0 deficit to start the game, but never looked back after taking the lead for good just seconds later.
Head coach Mike Woodson shrugged his shoulders when discussing his star’s hot streak.
“I think Melo has been on a nice run, which is nice to see. But I knew he was thinking more about winning the division than getting his numbers,” Woodson said. “He’s trying to do it on both ends on the floor. Your best player must always make others around you better, and that’s what’s he’s doing this season.”
Anthony made others around him better from the opening tip because the Knicks started hot and barely cooled off, as their 3-point assault was the real key to the win. Woodson, who’s installed a more balanced offense this season with his ball-swing philosophy, said he doesn’t mind all the 3-pointers because for the most part they’re all coming within the framework of the offense.
“We’re one of the top shooting teams in the league, and that’s pretty much what we do. But they’re not bad shots. We have guys that can make them, because if we didn’t trust me, they wouldn’t be shooting them,” said Woodson. “We’ve shot it with a high percentage this year so when you got [open looks], you have to take them.”
The Wizards (29-49) were led by point guard John Wall’s 33 points, but it was his lack of getting others involved which ultimately doomed his team. Wall finished with a team-high 19 attempts (the next highest was 12 by Cartier Martin off the bench), but only had three assists to four turnovers.
“We’re playing as well as we did when we started the season,” Woodson said. “Our defense is great, and our offense [is] scoring at a high pace. Everyone is playing unselfish and looking out for each other.”
The Knicks played a well-rounded effort as six players reached double figures. Anthony was complemented by unusual suspects like Iman Shumpert and Chris Copeland. The former had 18 points — a boost considering he went scoreless in Sunday’s win at Oklahoma City — while the latter added 17 points. Both players knocked down four 3-pointers.
Jason Kidd has seen about everything a veteran can see, but he sounded very impressed with how well the Knicks have adapted to adversity.
“One way to look at the injuries is that everyone gets a chance to play. We’re a deep team, but we lost another one tonight [Kenyon Martin], which makes us small. But in the end we play as a team,” said Kidd. “It also helps when Melo carries us. He was cooking tonight, the hottest thing out there.”
The Wizards came into the game stout on the defensive end, allowing just 91.2 points per game in their last five contests, but the Knicks hit them with a barrage of 3-pointers (9-of-12) to take the early lead. They finished with a franchise-record tying 20 made 3-pointers.
The Knicks can taste the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference — an important feat considering they’d have homecourt advantage against every team except the top-seeded Heat.
“The second seed is still out there and it’s something that is right there for us [to take]. We just have to figure out how to take it, especially as we’re banged up with the injured right now. But the guys who are dressed are competing,” said Woodson. “All it means [is that] we’re heading into the right direction. When you set goals as team and you accomplish it, it means a lot to the franchise, the players and the fans. … Everyone came into veteran’s camp committed and it’s carried over all season.”
» All-Star center Tyson Chandler (neck) didn’t dress tonight, as soreness from his bulging disc flared up again during today’s shootaround. Replacing Chandler in the lineup was ailing big man Kenyon Martin, who missed the two previous games with soreness in his knee. The fiery 6-foot-9 power forward stepped into the pivot, but didn’t have much impact (two points, three rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes) before bowing out with a turned left ankle midway through the fourth quarter. The X-rays were negative, as he was officially diagnosed with a sprained left ankle.
» Anthony is the NBA’s top scorer and owner of its most popular jersey. Anthony passed reigning MVP LeBron James for the top sales spot Tuesday, the league announced. He’s the first Knicks player to lead since the list was released in 2001-02. The list is based on sales at the NBA Store in New York and on NBAStore.com since last November. Thunder star Kevin Durant is third, followed by Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Bulls guard Derrick Rose.
» Even the Garden faithful were shooting lights out, as a female fan won $10,000 by knocking down a free throw during a break in the action.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.