Knicks feeling good, can't afford letdown vs. Wizards

Carmelo Anthony and Steve Novak celebrate after Anthony

Carmelo Anthony and Steve Novak celebrate after Anthony tied a game against the Chicago Bulls in the final seconds of regulation. (April 8, 2012) (Credit: AP)

Mike Woodson enjoyed the moment after the Knicks' big win in Milwaukee Wednesday night and let his players bask in it too. But the coach reminded them that they haven't secured anything yet.

"Keep pushing," Woodson told them.

Eight games remain in the regular season, and the Knicks' chances of claiming a playoff berth are much better than they would have been if they hadn't made key plays down the stretch to pull out the 111-107 win over the Bucks. The Knicks are two games ahead of Milwaukee for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Their remaining schedule features some tough games and some games they should win if they are serious about being a playoff team and even moving up in the standings. One they should win comes Friday night against the Washington Wizards, who at 14-44 own the NBA's second-worst record.

With Miami and Boston their next two games after Washington, the Knicks can't afford to have a letdown after their emotional victory in Milwaukee.

"We've just got to make sure we keep everybody focused and lift everybody's level of play and we're going to be fine," Tyson Chandler said.

The Knicks, whose last five games are against the Nets, Cavaliers, Hawks, Clippers and Bobcats, could climb to seventh place. Philadelphia is only one game up and the Knicks own the tiebreaker against the 76ers. But the Knicks still have a chance to get higher.

It's improbable, but they're four games behind Atlantic Division-leading Boston. The Celtics begin a set of back-to-back-to-back games Friday night before coming to the Garden Tuesday. The Knicks also trail No. 5 Atlanta and No. 6 Orlando by four games.

The Knicks have some things that could work to their advantage in their playoff push.

They've been playing intense games that could be hardening them and preparing them for the postseason. They've shown they can lock in defensively with Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert leading that charge, and Carmelo Anthony has been the lethal scorer the Knicks need him to be.

He has averaged 30 points and shot 50 percent (98-for-196) in leading the Knicks to six wins in the nine games they've played without Amar'e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin. Anthony had 32 points and 10 rebounds Wednesday, battling through injuries to his right wrist and left hand that he suffered in the game. He said he is fine, though.

"I love this moment," Anthony said. "This is where it gets fun, fighting for a playoff spot, playoffs right around the corner, games that you have to win, going out there and being a part of that and actually winning those games. That's the fun part."

The Knicks outscored the Bucks 25-13 in the final 9:22 and held them scoreless the last 1:16 after Milwaukee went ahead 107-105.

Starting small with Anthony at power forward and having Shumpert in the lineup has helped the Knicks become quicker and better defensively.

When Stoudemire comes back from his back injury, perhaps next week, there could be another adjustment similar to Anthony's return during the height of Lin-sanity. Woodson has said Stoudemire will regain his starting spot when he returns.

"This team here that we got right now, the way we've been winning basketball games, we've been playing physical, we've been winning games on the defensive end," Anthony said. "Some games our offense has been brilliant out there, some games it's not, but we're still winning basketball games at the same time. So obviously we're doing something good on the defensive end.

"I'm just proud of the guys for responding that way."

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