The Knicks are playing like a team that doesn't want its season to end in two weeks, and it might not if they play their final six games like they did against the Nets Wednesday night.
Phil Jackson was in attendance for just the third time since becoming Knicks president nine games ago and witnessed one of their better defensive performances and shooting nights of the season.
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The Knicks trounced the Nets, 110-81, at Madison Square Garden for their 12th win in their last 15 games and moved into a virtual tie with the Hawks for the East's last playoff spot.
The Knicks (33-43) are percentage points ahead of Atlanta, losers of 21 of their last 28 games. But the Hawks (32-42) own the tiebreaker.
"We want to get there, that's the goal," Carmelo Anthony said after a 23-point, 10-rebound night. "Despite this emotional season, up-and-down season, I think it'd be a big deal for us to get in that spot, get in the playoffs. And that's our goal. We're fighting for that right now.
"If we continue playing the way we've been playing, we'll be there at the end of the season."
The Knicks have a more difficult schedule than Atlanta. Their remaining six games are against playoff teams, including the Heat and a rematch with the Nets in Brooklyn.
The Nets (40-34) embarrassed the Knicks in the Garden in January. But the Knicks took control Wednesday night in the second quarter, led by as many as 33, and won their third straight. They shot 60 percent from the field.
This game also was a vast improvement from the last time Jackson saw the Knicks live -- they lost by 31 in Los Angeles to the Lakers. "Everybody came out focused, locked in and we didn't look back since the tipoff," Anthony said.
J.R. Smith scored a game-high 24 points. The Knicks also got big performances from reserves Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert.
Hardaway Jr., who sprained his ankle in Monday's win at Utah, was 7-for-10 with 17 points. Shumpert had 10 points and five steals, keying the Knicks' defense, especially in the first half.
There was a scary moment in the third quarter when Raymond Felton suffered contused ribs and back after a hard and awkward fall in the third quarter but returned in the fourth.
Joe Johnson had 16 points and Deron Williams 12 for the Nets, who shot 26-of-65 (40 percent).
Mike Woodson spoke highly of the fifth-place Nets, saying, "I think they got a legitimate shot to come out of the East if they stay healthy."
The Nets already clinched a playoff spot, and are battling for seeding now. But they hardly battled Wednesday night. "For whatever reason, we had a few guys fighting and a few guys who weren't fighting," Johnson said.
The Knicks rode their defense to a 63-38 lead at halftime. Shumpert had steals on back-to-back possessions, leading to an Anthony dunk and a Hardaway Jr. three-pointer at the buzzer to end the first quarter. That was part of a 22-4 run that gave the Knicks a 41-24 lead with 7:56 left in the half.
Another Shumpert steal turned into a five-point trip. Shumpert scored and was fouled, but missed the foul shot. The Knicks got the first of two offensive rebounds on the possession. Amar'e Stoudemire grabbed the second and fed Anthony, who scored and was fouled. Anthony completed the three-point play for a 50-32 edge.
Smith drilled a three-pointer with 9:59 left in the third to make it 70-44. But the Knicks missed 10 of their next 11 shots and let the Nets draw within 74-60 with 2:00 minutes left. The Nets could have been closer, but they missed open jumpers and forced shots.
The Knicks hit their last three attempts in the third and took an 82-61 lead into the fourth and cruised to the win.
"I've never given up hope in terms of our team and the direction we could go and should be," Woodson said. "Our players have responded. They want to get into the playoffs. They want to fight and get this eighth spot. That says a lot for our locker room."