The Knicks were given the day off Monday to recuperate from Sunday’s emotional win over the Bulls.
Following the thrilling and improbable overtime victory, the Knicks now embark on a difficult stretch in hopes of holding onto their current spot at No. 7 in the Eastern Conference playoffs standings.
Their trek begins tonight in a rematch against the Bulls in Chicago. It doesn’t get easier the following night when the Knicks (29-27) travel to Milwaukee to face a Bucks (28-28) team that is nipping on the heels of playoff contention.
“I’m trying to use these next few games as a playoff atmosphere. Especially [Chicago] because there’s a chance we could see them again in the first round,” said Woodson after Sunday’s win. “Right now I’m not even thinking ahead of that. We’re trying to take it one game at a time. When we get them again I’m sure they’re going to be fired up with having Rose back in uniform.”
Carmelo Anthony, who finished with a game-high 43 points, played arguably his best game in a Knicks uniform in Sunday’s win.
“There’s a lot of work to do, but you have to start from somewhere [because] the playoffs is our goal,” said Anthony. “As long as we continue to play the way we’ve been playing these last few games, with this effort, we’ll be fine. … It could be any one of us to step up until key guys get healthy.”
One guy who’s stepped up in the absence of Amar’e Stoudemire (back) and Jeremy Lin (knee) has been Iman Shumpert. The rookie has put his stamp all over the court. His work ethic has even rubbed off on guys not known for grit, like Anthony and Baron Davis. The veterans laud Shumpert for the spark he’s given them and are thrilled to see him contributing down the stretch when the team needs him the most.
“I like everything about that kid,” Davis said of Shumpert. “He’s going to continue to grow and be a great player for this organization. He’s fearless and goes out and plays hard and competes. … And at this point whatever injury, nick or scratch you have, you just have to go with it and have guys pick you up.”
Davis, who was never known to be a shutdown defender, said defense is at the top of Woodson’s list of things the team needs to excel at in order to make the playoffs. The veteran point guard, who’s also been banged up with hamstring and back issues, said he and everyone else is buying into Woodson’s credo.
“[Defense] is extremely important. That and rebounding are the two most important things when it comes to winning,” said Davis, adding quality possessions is right up there. “And I have to do a better job at not turning the ball over — especially on the road. We need to be more conscious of taking care of the basketball.”
The Knicks have a real shot at climbing even higher in the standings, but they must first overcome a Bulls team bent on revenge and a Bucks team that has been ascending since their acquisition of Monta Ellis.
New York is coming off a game in which they forced Rose into a game-high eight turnovers — seven of which came when Shumpert was defending him — so they are preparing for a buzzsaw Tuesday night. In order to weather the upcoming storms, they know they’ll have to raise the intensity even higher than Sunday’s tilt.
“We know it’s coming, so I just keep telling them that when it does, take a deep breath because all is not bad,” Woodson said of the advice he gives his team when things seem dire, like blowing a 21-point lead.
Woodson said he’s proud of his squad mostly because of the way they fight through adversity.
“I’m just anxious to see how we step up and meet the challenge,” he said. “We won’t get a chance to practice much where we have 10 bodies running up and down the floor because we’re not healthy, so most of it is film sessions and walk-throughs on the floor. … We’re doing a lot of things on the fly because of the lack of time so it’ll be interesting to see [how the team responds].”
» Lin spoke with the media prior to Sunday’s game and said what most everyone already knew — and feared — that he doubts he’ll be ready for the first round of the playoffs: “It depends on how far and how long [rehab] goes. But obviously I want to get to 100 percent and then come back, hopefully see what I can do. By then it’ll be a different team identity, chemistry, so it gets tricky, too. ... I’m doing everything I can to get back as soon as possible.”
Lin, who had a heavy workload since becoming the starter, also said he thinks the injury would’ve happened had this not been a truncated season due to the lockout, but added there’s no sense in worrying about that now: “I still may have gotten hurt. That’s hard to say. I mean, I think obviously a condensed schedule can be harder on people’s bodies [but] I don’t know if that was the exact cause. I don’t know if I would have still gotten hurt if it was a normal season. That’s kind of hard to guess.”
»Toney Douglas, long forgotten due to Linsanity, has seen his minutes spike upwards since Lin’s injury. The point guard said Sunday’s win was important for many reasons — mainly because it was their home floor, but also because guys rallied around one another and fought back on the strength of their improving defense: “We have to start establishing our home court. We can’t let any team come into the Garden and shine out. From the jump-off we have to make teams understand they just can’t do that and that starts with defense. We need everybody talking and picking up each other and when we start doing that we’ll be one of the top defensive teams in the league.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8 as the Knicks make their playoff push.