Tuesday night at Miami? Just another game for Knicks
MIAMI -- The Knicks sounded like a team that couldn't wait to get to Miami, and not for the usual reasons everyone loves visiting South Beach.
The Knicks hope to extend their winning streak to nine games Tuesday night against the defending NBA champion Heat, which was without LeBron James (hamstring), Dwyane Wade (ankle) and Mario Chalmers (ankle) in its win over the Spurs in San Antonio on Sunday.
Although the Heat, which has won 29 of its last 30 games, has clinched the East's top seed, it's hard to foresee James and Wade sitting when the NBA's two hottest teams meet in what could be a preview of the Eastern Conference finals -- if the Knicks get there.
But one Knick took offense to the assumption that the Eastern Conference championship runs through Miami.
"You know what assuming do, right?" Kenyon Martin said. "We're going to get every game we play. The importance of every game is you go out to win. It's not just against Miami or Boston or the team that's at the top of the conference. You go out to win every game. You guys make it a bigger deal than it is."
The Knicks can downplay it all they want, but they're chasing the Heat in every way possible and have tried to assemble a team capable of beating Miami in the playoffs.
James, Wade and Chris Bosh formed a Big Three in 2010 and led Miami to back-to-back NBA Finals and one championship. The Knicks put Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler together, hoping to contend for a title, but Miami bounced them in the first round last year.
Chandler and Stoudemire haven't played during this winning streak. Chandler hopes to return Tuesday night from a bulging disc in his neck. Stoudemire had knee surgery three weeks ago and is unlikely to play again this season unless the Knicks have a long playoff run.
The Knicks are proving they can win without key players, including Rasheed Wallace, whose presence continues to be felt. Wallace leaves messages on the dry-erase boards in the Knicks' locker room and practice facility. There was a big ''50'' on the board in the Garden on Sunday night. The Knicks need four wins to reach 50 for the first time since 1999-2000.
"He's been instrumental for us all year with that kind of stuff," Steve Novak said. "He put some stuff on the board at the training center, on dry-erase board with permanent marker. He said teamwork makes the dream work and he had a pretty accurate O'Brien Trophy."
The Knicks, who are 2-1 against the Heat, think they have the mix to beat the Heat and win that O'Brien Trophy.
Anthony has been healthy and productive since having his knee drained. J.R. Smith has become a weapon off the bench. Iman Shumpert is playing better on both ends of the floor. The Knicks are moving the ball better and are defending again, and Martin is providing much-needed toughness.
"I think we're just clicking at the right time," Shumpert said. "Going into the playoffs, everybody's got a different focus."
Their focus now is the Heat.
"Man, like I said, you all make it a bigger deal than it is," Martin said. "We go out to win every game. Just because it's them and the streak they had, it's a bigger media deal than it is in this locker room. It's just another game we got to play. We're going to go down there to get a win."
Notes & quotes: Smith was named Eastern Conference player of the week. He averaged 29.8 points as the Knicks went 4-0.