Knicks nab Atlantic Division title
April, 10, 2013
By Ian Begley | ESPNNewYork.com
Nineteen years is a long time.
So you'd think maybe the New York Knicks would want to celebrate a little after clinching their first division title since 1994 on Tuesday.
But other than a few blue T-shirts, there wasn't much to commemorate the moment in the team's locker room.
Instead, the Knicks made it clear that they're focused on loftier goals.
"The big picture is winning a title," coach Mike Woodson said. "That's all I'm in it for."
The Knicks took a step toward that end Tuesday with a 120-99 win over the Washington Wizards.
The victory over Washington extended their winning streak to 13, the third-longest in franchise history. It also guaranteed the Knicks a home-court advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs, by virtue of the division crown.
More important, the Knicks maintained a 2½-game lead over the Indiana Pacers for the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
"It’s just one little step. One building block," Jason Kidd said of the Atlantic crown. "One of our goals when we started the training camp in October was to win the division. We did that this evening. But that doesn’t mean anything. We still have a long ways to go."
A few weeks ago, the division title -- and any shot at long-term success in the playoffs -- seemed very much in doubt for these Knicks. New York was dealing with injuries to Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony, and was mired in a four-game losing streak on the West Coast.
"At that point, you start doubting a lot of things," Anthony said.
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty ImagesCarmelo Anthony scored a game-high 36 points versus the Wizards.
But the All-Star forward got fluid drained from his knee, and J.R. Smith started to drain shots. The Knicks haven't looked back since.
The Knicks leaned on Anthony and Smith again Tuesday to put away the Wizards.
Anthony had a game-high 36 points, and Smith finished with 17 points on 7-for-14 shooting.
"Guys are committed, and we're executing," Woodson said.
Anthony has been executing at historic levels of late. In his past five games, he's scored 40.6 points per game on 61.1 percent shooting. He's hit 55.6 percent of his 3s and pulled down 8.1 rebounds per game.
He tied Bernard King's franchise record with five straight games of at least 35 points.
"He's been beautiful to watch," Woodson said.
But not everything was beautiful for the Knicks on Tuesday.
The team might have suffered a significant loss when Kenyon Martin went down with a left ankle sprain early in the fourth quarter. Martin's X-rays came back negative but his status for Thursday's game against Chicago -- and beyond -- is unknown.
Martin's injury is just the latest in a long line of ailments for the Knicks' big men. Chandler has missed 11 of the past 15 games due to a neck ailment. Rasheed Wallace (broken foot), Kurt Thomas (stress fracture/right foot) and Amar'e Stoudemire (knee) are expected to miss at least the rest of the regular season.
But that hasn't slowed the Knicks, who validated themselves as title contenders in the eyes of some with Sunday's win in Oklahoma City.
"Right now we're playing extremely well. Great basketball," Anthony said. "As a team everybody is doing their job, everybody has seemed to accept their role."
Now that the Atlantic is settled, the next item on New York's agenda is a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks need just three more wins or three Pacers losses -- or a combination of wins or Indiana losses adding up to three -- to clinch second place. That would ensure the Knicks would have home court through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
"It’s a great thing to achieve one of your main goals," Smith said. "Now we just got to get that gold ball."