The Knicks officially locked up the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference by disposing of their closest threat to that vaunted position in a 90-80 defeat of the Pacers.
Carmelo Anthony had a game-high 25 points as the Knicks (53-27) will end the regular season with a chance to have homecourt advantage over every team but the top-seeded Heat (64-16). With Boston locked into the No. 7 seed, the Knicks can already begin preparing for their rivals in the first round.
“It’s a great achievement because we accomplished one of our main goals after we won the division,” said Woodson. “But, now first thing’s first, we have to get healthy and then go against Boston.”
New York used solid team defense to curtail the Pacers’ offense — particularly All-Star forward Paul George, who struggled by shooting 3-of-12 and scoring just nine points. Indiana (49-31) came into the game flaunting a considerable size advantage and it worked on the glass as they outrebounded the Knicks, 45-32. But they couldn’t get their shot going collectively, shooting just 43.1 percent from the field, including 28.6 percent behind the arc.
Conversely, the Knicks shot 42.7 percent, including 35.5 percent on 3-pointers. Anthony is usually complemented by a supreme sidekick scorer, but instead of J.R. Smith being the second banana, it was rookie forward Chris Copeland, who added 20 points off the bench. Copeland was particularly effective in the first half when he notched 12 points, including two 3-pointers.
The Knicks may have to rely upon Copeland even more when it matters most if they can’t get all their banged-up bodies back in time for the Celtics, because Anthony joined the list of the ailing when he had to come out of the game in the fourth quarter due to a bruised left shoulder.
But the All-Star forward said he’ll be fine, and actually warmed to the idea of receiving extra rest this week in preparation for what he hopes is a long playoff run. Woodson noted that if the game’s margin had gotten down to eight points or less he would have probably brought Anthony back into the game.
Anthony said he’ll be “ready to go” next week and will likely sit out tomorrow’s game against the Bobcats.
“It’s OK. I’m good. I just got nicked,” said Anthony, quickly diverting his attention to the Celtics. “It’s a big series for the organization and the city. … There’s no added pressure to win [because of the Knicks’ recent playoff troubles], but of course we want payback for two years ago. We want to beat Boston, let’s be quite frank about it.”
The win affords the Knicks the ability to rest the walking wounded if necessary as they have two basically meaningless games to close out the regular season, at the Bobcats and home against the Hawks.
And whatever obstacles lie ahead for the Knicks, Woodson sounded confident all the veteran-laden team’s hard work has prepared them sufficiently.
“I’ve seen a team with a lot of heart that’s committed,” Woodson said. “Everybody’s played a major role in where we are today, and [the accolades and accomplishments] is well deserved.”
» Rasheed Wallace’s recovery has him on track for a possible return in the final two regular season games. Wallace, who has been recovering from a late-February foot surgery and hasn’t played since Dec. 13, would be a boost to the undersized Knicks. Wallace was seen running at Madison Square Garden prior to today’s matinee and Woodson told the media he could be available very soon.
» Good news for Copeland in that Woodson likely trusts him now. The sometimes gruff head coach said Copeland has “earned himself” a spot in the playoff rotation, praising how far he’s come since the summer league.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.