After the Knicks clinched their playoff berth Sunday, Carmelo Anthony said the game "is fun now." With the weight off their shoulders -- for now -- the Knicks had a blast in a 131-118 win over the lottery-bound Toronto Raptors Tuesday night at the Garden.
Toney Douglas had 28 points for the Knicks (39-38), who won their fourth straight game and moved back over .500 for the first time since March 20.
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Up next is the chance to regain the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff standings with a win over the 76ers Wednesday night in Philadelphia.
Amar'e Stoudemire said the team's goal "is to get the sixth seed," but Chauncey Billups said he doesn't see a difference in finishing sixth or seventh. Either way, the likely first-round matchup will be with the Celtics or the Heat.
"I don't think it really matters that much to be honest with you," Billups said. "We're going to play a tough, tough team either way. We're going to be the underdog."
The plan, however, is to be at the top of their game -- and well-rested -- when they get there. Despite a late challenge by Toronto to cut what had been for two quarters a lead of 20-plus points down to 10 with 6:24 left, the Knicks were mostly sharp and coach Mike D'Antoni was able to rest at least two of his Big Three in the fourth quarter.
"We took care of business," D'Antoni said, "up to a certain point."
Stoudemire had 23 points, five assists, two blocked shots and played 35:51, including a bulk of the fourth, and appears to be getting the pop back in his legs. Meanwhile, Anthony (23 points and nine rebounds in 28:32) and Chauncey Billups (13 points, nine assists in 25:54) sat out the final quarter.
D'Antoni said over these last few games of the regular season, he would try to find rest for his main players. But he also pointed to the need to keep playing at a high level.
"We're going to try to keep banging the drum and tell them how they need to play the right way," D'Antoni said before the game. "We have to use this time to get better with our chemistry on the court. You can only do that if you play 100 percent."
With red-hot shooting, and excellent ball movement -- and even more evidence of the pick-and-roll returning to the offense -- the Knicks took a 13-0 lead over the injury-riddled Raptors that grew to 39-26 after the first quarter. It became a laugher in the second quarter, as the Knicks hit six three pointers and went ahead by as many as 29 points.
DeMar DeRozan had 36 points to lead Toronto (21-56).
Anthony, the NBA's Eastern Conference player of the week for last week, had 19 points in the half, including five three-pointers. He nailed his fourth of the half from well beyond the arc with 2:28 left in the half to make it 68-45. A little over a minute later, he drilled another to make it 74-47 and turned with a grin and shrugged. Was it a Michael Jordan moment? "No," he said. "That was a Melo moment."