After the dust settled on their 93-85 home loss Sunday afternoon to the Miami Heat, the New York Knicks found themselves 4-1/2 games back of the Boston Celtics with six regular-season games left.
The Knicks are all but eliminated from the race for the Atlantic Division title and a home-court series in the playoffs. Any person thinking logically would tend to agree.
The Knicks, however, are not thinking logically.
“As long as there’s still an opportunity for us to get there, until just mathematically we’re not in it, we have to continue to fight for it,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler said. “It has to be the goal.”
About the only way the Knicks still have a chance at securing a home series in the playoffs is statistically speaking, and even still, it’ll be virtually impossible for New York to grab its first division crown since 1994.
Because the Celtics hold the tiebreaker between the teams — either by virtue of head-to-head record or because of a higher conference winning percentage — the Knicks not only need to catch Boston, they also need to pass them. In order to do that, they’ll need literally everything to go their way down the stretch.
One Boston win or one New York loss over the final two weeks of the season will clinch the division for the Celtics. Both could happen Tuesday when the Knicks host the rival Celtics at Madison Square Garden.
“I think every game is huge for us right now; every game is a must-win,” said guard J.R. Smith, who scored 16 points Sunday against the Heat. “Playing against Boston at home, they beat us at their place, the division title’s at stake, and we’ve got to go and try to get a W.”
The sheer improbability of winning the division aside, the Knicks have been playing great basketball of late. With Sunday’s loss, New York has won 13 of 18 games since the promotion of interim head coach Mike Woodson in March.
A large part of that success has been the stellar play of Carmelo Anthony, who tied a season-high with 42 points on 14-of-27 shooting against the Heat. Over the past two weeks, Anthony has re-established himself as one of the NBA’s elite scorers.
“Guys like Carmelo Anthony, KD (Kevin Durant) and Kobe (Bryant), they’re going to make shots; they’re flat-out scorers,” said LeBron James, who paced Miami with 29 points Sunday. “They’re going to make shots and hopefully down the stretch you try to continue to wear on them and hopefully they start to miss a few.”
Lately, hope has been about the only way to stop Anthony from putting the ball in the basket.
In the 11 games since the Knicks lost starting point guard Jeremy Lin and starting power forward Amar’e Stoudemire to injury, Anthony has averaged 30 points on 50-percent shooting, regularly putting the entire offense on his back, as he did in Sunday’s loss.
The concern now — because there’s always a concern when it comes to Anthony and the Knicks — is that ‘Melo might be scoring too much for the team to be successful.
“There were times when we had no flow on the offensive end, even when I was out of the game . . . and this is the first time in a long time that I’ve seen that,” Anthony said. “But it’s just one game, on to the next one. We’ve got Boston ahead Tuesday, and that’s our focus right now.”
Anthony has had the top seven scoring performances for the Knicks during the last 11 games, and only Smith and rookie guard Iman Shumpert have had 20-point games in that span, each with two. Smith has been the Knicks’ No. 2 scoring option lately, averaging 13.9 points per game off the bench with Lin and Stoudemire out.
“When ‘Melo’s hot, of course we’re going to go him, but if it’s an iffy game and I’ve got it going, he’s got it going and a few other people might have it going, then we’ve got to look at that,” Smith said. “Whenever we have balanced scoring as a team, I’m sure our numbers are definitely higher.”
Woodson, though, is a man motivated by results, and overall, the results have been overwhelmingly favorable, despite what happened against Miami.
“I can’t complain about the way we’ve been playing,” Woodson said. “We’ve been playing some pretty good basketball, and I’m not going to let one game determine the rest of the season. We’re going to continue to play well. These guys are playing for something.”
Officially, that something is a division title, but for practical purposes, New York’s focus should be on securing the No. 7 seed in the East and setting up a first-round matchup with the very Heat who just ended the Knicks’ nine-game home winning streak.
“I like our chances against this team,” point guard Baron Davis said. “I think we match up with them well. We’re up for the challenge, we kind of like the attention and we like playing against that team.”
A potential playoff matchup between the Heat and Knicks would certainly be huge, and a win Tuesday against Boston would go a long way toward turning that much-desired spotlight in New York’s direction.
“Playing for the Knicks, you play against the Bulls and Heat and Boston,” Smith said. “The rivalries are like no other. If you don’t like this type of basketball, you should go home.”
Follow Sam Gardner on Twitter: @sam_gardner
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