When the Knicks lost the first four games of their recent five-game West Coast road trip by an average of 20 points, few thought they would hang on to first place in the Atlantic Division, let alone regain the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference.
Yet by rattling off four straight wins, the Knicks (42-26) find themselves in a virtual tie for second in the East with Indiana (43-27).
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As improbable as it sounds, considering all the team's injuries, the Knicks still are in contention for home-court advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Knicks head into the regular-season homestretch a lot more optimistic than they were a week ago. A big reason: Carmelo Anthony, the NBA's second-leading scorer at 27.6 points per game, is back, looking healthy and knocking down shots.
Anthony totaled 65 points in the past two games after missing six of the previous eight games with a sore right knee. On Saturday night, the second of a back-to-back against Toronto, Anthony looked like his explosive, athletic self.
"It was a big step for me and a big step for us, just to see that I can handle the back-to-backs right now," Anthony said. "I'm starting to feel better and better each day. I'm getting back to where I need to be."
Anthony's return to health hasn't been the only factor that has helped the Knicks right their ship. The emergence of Kenyon Martin, who was watching games from his living-room couch a little more than a month ago, has been a key factor in getting the team through an epidemic of front-line injuries.
Martin, who has started six games while Tyson Chandler is out with a neck injury, has posted back-to-back games of 19 and 18 points. He also has brought a much-needed level of energy and emotion to the team, especially on defense.
"He's stepped up big-time," coach Mike Woodson said. "He's scored for us, he's rebounded, had a few blocks. He does a little bit of everything."
Martin was a teammate of Anthony and J.R. Smith in Denver and played with Jason Kidd on the Nets teams that went to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. He obviously has a good feel for the games of several key Knicks.
"He means a lot to this team right now," Anthony said. "We need him coming down the stretch."
Woodson has said Martin will return to the bench once Chandler is healthy. Martin insists he is fine with whatever role he plays.
Said Martin: "I'm playing for now and I'm playing for beyond now. I don't want this to be it . . . I just want people to know I can still play the game of basketball at a high level."