Playoff door closes on Knicks as Hawks claim final spot

Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Carmelo

Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks walk to the bench after a timeout in the second half against the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden on Friday, April 4, 2014. (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

The Knicks have tried to build a team that can beat the Heat, but for one night, they were Miami fans.

It didn't do them any good.

The Knicks were eliminated from playoff contention Saturday night when the Atlanta Hawks defeated Miami, 98-85. The Hawks clinched the Eastern Conference's eighth seed with the victory over the two-time defending NBA champions.

It's the first time since 2010 that the Knicks didn't make the playoffs -- and the first time in Carmelo Anthony's 11-year career that he won't be playing in the postseason.

It was a long shot for the Knicks to make it anyway. To extend their season beyond Wednesday's regular-season finale against the Raptors, the Knicks needed to win their final three games and for the Hawks to drop their last three.

"I'm not going to lie, it's a tough thing to grasp," J.R. Smith said. "But we put ourselves in this situation. If we're going to beat up anybody, we can't get mad at Atlanta; we can't get mad at anybody else but ourselves. We put ourselves in this situation. We dug this grave; we got to lie in it."

After winning 54 games and the Atlantic Division title last season, the Knicks had championship aspirations for 2013-14, but they were unrealistic. Although they brought back their nucleus, they lost valuable leaders and contributors, including Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace and Steve Novak.

The Knicks have had injuries, too many underperforming players and, until recently, no one to take some of the scoring load off Anthony. Poor perimeter defense, bad execution late in games and an inability to hold leads hurt them, too.

One 48-hour stretch in February was particularly crushing. The Knicks wasted a 14-point second-half lead and lost in double overtime to the Magic. The next night, they squandered a 17-point cushion in Atlanta and fell to the Hawks.

That ultimately cost the Knicks the tiebreaker against Atlanta. They split the season series 2-2, but Atlanta held the advantage because of a better conference record.

"I'm pretty sure when it's all said and done, I'll look back and say these are the games, mark the games down that we gave away and should have won," Anthony said. "But we can't do nothing about that now."

It was surprising that the Knicks, who will host the Bulls Sunday night, still were in the race this late in the season. They were 21-40, in 11th place and 61/2 games out on March 4. But they climbed back into it by winning 13 of their last 18.

Although they had one more loss than the Hawks, the Knicks actually were percentage points ahead of Atlanta and in eighth place after a win over the Nets on April 2. But two nights later, they lost a one-point game at home to Washington and found themselves trying to catch up to Atlanta ever since.

"Since the beginning of March, we started this journey to try and get this eight spot, I mean really try to get it," coach Mike Woodson said. "We've played well enough, but we dug such a hole early that it's been tough trying to dig out."

And the chase officially ended Saturday night.

Notes & quotes: These could be the final three games of Anthony's career with the Knicks -- if he plays in them. Anthony, who will be a free agent in July, has been slowed by a right shoulder injury. He had said he would continue playing as long as the Knicks were in the hunt, but that's over now.

The Bulls could have the money and an interest in Anthony. He spoke glowingly about the job coach Tom Thibodeau has done in leading the Bulls to one of the best records in the Eastern Conference despite being without Derrick Rose for most of the season and trading Luol Deng in a salary dump.

"Thibs is a great coach," Anthony said. "His system kind of reminds me of a Gregg Popovich system. You put anybody in that system and it's going to work."

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