MILWAUKEE - Carmelo Anthony didn't sound discouraged about his or the Knicks' play in Saturday night's loss to Miami, or the fact that his team already has matched last season's loss total with 35 games remaining.
Anthony could have been displaying false bravado, or he really might believe the Knicks have made strides by winning four of their last five games.
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"I can't look at the standings," he said. "I know where we're at, but as far as saying we've lost 28 games this year, we only lost 28 last year, this season and last season is no comparison. It's a different year, a different team, and as long as we continue to get better, then we can make a push for the playoffs.
"I like the direction that we're going in as far as our mentality, our focus."
The Knicks (19-28) are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, one game out of the eighth playoff spot. But they still have visions of doing more than just making the playoffs.
Even after completing their eight-game homestand with a 4-4 record, the Knicks -- who play the 8-39 Bucks here Monday night -- think they can climb all the way up to the top four in the conference.
"I'm very pleased with the way we've been playing of late," Tyson Chandler said. "Obviously, we didn't come in expecting to put ourselves in this situation. But on the bright end, this is the kind of year where that's the case for a lot of teams. I feel like it's still wide open.
"I feel like we've got a real opportunity to kind of shoot up to that third spot or so and try to get ourselves in the mix."
The Knicks are 6 1/2 games behind Atlanta, currently third in the Eastern Conference, and six behind Atlantic Division-leading Toronto. Finishing high enough to host a first-round series seems unlikely for the Knicks, especially with the road ahead.
Starting Monday night, they play 10 of their next 15 on the road. Twenty-one of their remaining games are away from the Garden, including two stops in Miami and one each in Oklahoma City, Memphis, Atlanta, Chicago, Golden State, Atlanta and Toronto. And only 12 of their last 35 games are against teams with worse records.
While the coaching staff and players are focused on trying to make a move upward, the front office will be looking to make personnel moves before the Feb. 20 trade deadline.
As currently constituted, if the Knicks make the playoffs, they could win a round -- depending on whom they play -- but are not expected to challenge the Heat or the East-leading Pacers.
Knicks officials have to be preoccupied with acquiring a complementary player to put next to Anthony or collecting assets for future moves. Anthony will be a free agent this summer, and keeping him happy and in New York remains the Knicks' priority.
Anthony has said winning a championship is his only objective. The Knicks aren't close, but he sounded more optimistic about this team than he did a little more than a week ago.
"I think that's where we have to get better at, and that's the consistency factor," Anthony said. "But we have been doing very well in that area the last week and a half, as far as defending the basketball and playing the way we know how to play, playing freely and having fun. I don't want to let this game get anybody down or get us down as a team."