The Knicks head to Chicago for a key Thursday night matchup riding a wave of euphoria not felt by the franchise in quite some time.
Following Tuesday night’s Atlantic Division-clinching win, the Knicks (51-26) finally ended the Celtics’ five-year reign of terror in the division, while also further separating themselves from the Pacers (49-29) for the all-important No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The seeding, if it stands, means only the Heat (61-16) will have homecourt advantage over the Knicks in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Head coach Mike Woodson announced that winning the division was a “long overdue” prize for the franchise, prideful that one of the team’s “major goals since veteran’s camp” was met.
J.R. Smith, one of the frontrunners for Sixth Man of the Year, said winning the division and gaining a stranglehold on the No. 2 seed outweighs whatever personal bests he’s accomplishing this season.
“It's a great thing to achieve one of your main goals, and now we've just got to go get that gold ball,” Smith said about capturing the Larry O’Brien trophy, something the franchise hasn’t done in 40 years.
The Knicks seemingly have history on their side, as this current 13-game winning streak is the franchise’s longest since winning 15 in a row from March 1, 1994 to April 2, 1994 — a season which ended in an NBA Finals appearance. The Knicks can tie the franchise record of 18 in a row, set early in their first NBA championship season of 1969-70, by winning their final five games.
But before that happens, the Knicks need to beat the Bulls (42-35), a team which has experience in ending long winning streaks. They ended the Heat's 27-game winning streak last month. The Bulls are 3-0 against the Knicks in the season series, so it is a tough task for New York. But should the visitors pull out the victory, there’s no telling how long the Knicks’ streak can extend.
Carmelo Anthony, who is enjoying his own special season as the league’s leading scorer, said he appreciates what the team has achieved so far, but added he’s confident there’s much more to come.
“There’s no reason not to have a smile on your face at this moment,” Anthony said. “We’ve accomplished one of our goals that we set before the season in training camp, [but] it’s a stepping stone for us.”
» Power forward Kenyon Martin, the Knicks’ latest big man to go down with an injury, will likely be out for Thursday’s game in Chicago. Martin injured his left ankle midway through the fourth quarter in Tuesday night’s win. X-rays were negative, but Woodson didn’t sound optimistic about seeing Martin again on the floor anytime soon, as he said Martin had a “severe ankle sprain.”
» The Knicks also announced Tyson Chandler (bulging disc in neck) is out, while power forward Marcus Camby (plantar fasciitis) is doubtful.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.