Knicks win first Atlantic Division title since 1994 with win over Wizards

Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks celebrates after assisting

Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks celebrates after assisting on a basket in the second half against the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden. (April 9, 2013) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

The scoreboard above the Garden floor read "Atlantic Division Champions" and blue T-shirts hung in each player's locker with "Can't Stop NY Knicks 2013 Division Champions" on it.

The Knicks buried the Wizards Tuesday night, 120-99, to clinch their first Atlantic Division championship since 1994. It's the first step to what they hope will end in a march through the playoffs and their first NBA title in 40 years.

"That was our No. 1 goal, win our division," J.R. Smith said. "Fortunately we did it. It's a great thing to achieve one of your main goals. Now we just got to get that gold ball."

The way the Knicks (51-26) are playing, they have emerged as a legitimate threat to the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and the rest of the championship contenders.

The Knicks won their 13th straight. Next on their agenda is getting the No. 2 seed in the East, which would give them the home court edge for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs. They remain 21/2 games up on Indiana and reduced their magic number to clinch the second seed to three with five to play. The Knicks will open up the playoffs at the Garden April 20 and could play Boston, Atlanta or Chicago.

But a damper was put on the festive mood when Kenyon Martin sprained his left ankle early in the fourth quarter after coming down on Chris Singleton's foot. X-rays were negative. But Mike Woodson called it 'a severe sprain.'

The Knicks, who were without Tyson Chandler after the bulging disc in his neck flared up, are concerned about Martin. He pounded the floor before being helped to the locker room.

Martin missed the previous two games with a sore left knee and was on restricted minutes. The Knicks were up 25 at the time so Martin didn't need to be in the game. "Hindsight, maybe I should have pulled him out," Woodson said.

Carmelo Anthony continued his torrid scoring pace, finishing with 36 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Anthony tied Bernard King's franchise record of scoring at least 35 points in five straight games. Anthony scored 21 in the third to put the game away. "Coming out of halftime we huddled up and I said, 'Listen, let's try and get the game over with, let's go get our division title," Anthony said.

"He was thinking of winning that division, and he wasn't going to leave any doubt in anybody's mind that we earned the rights to win the division," Woodson said.

The Knicks, tied a franchise record by hitting 20 three-pointers. They were 20 of 36 from three and led by as many as 31. Iman Shumpert scored 18 points. Smith and Chris Copeland each had 17.

John Wall's 33 points led Washington.

The Knicks have been the Atlantic Division's best team from their opening-night win over Miami Nov. 2. They have had at least a share of first place ever since.

This was just the fifth time the Knicks won the division outright -- they shared it with Boston in 1991-92. Patrick Ewing was a dominant force in the middle the last time the Knicks won the Atlantic, and ultimately led them to the 1994 NBA Finals. Woodson and the Knicks hope history repeats but with one major difference -- they win the title.

No banners hang in the Garden or the Knicks' practice facility for division titles. They only recognize conference and NBA championships.

"The big picture is winning a title," Woodson said. "The division is great because that's what we set out to do as a team but the big picture is trying to win a championship. We're headed in the right direction but we still have a ways to go."

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