Woodson's goal remains winning Atlantic title
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- LeBron James leads the Heat into the Garden Sunday for the first time this season, but Miami could return the first week of May. Mike Woodson hopes not, though.
Woodson doesn't fear the Heat, which owns the Eastern Conference's second-best record. He's just not content to finish seventh. His sights are on climbing to the No. 4 spot and opening the playoffs at home.
"I'm looking at one thing and one thing only, and that's to win the division," Woodson said after Saturday's light practice. "I'm trying to get this team to understand that they still have a legitimate shot to win the division. That means more to me than anything. To be able to host the first round at home in front of our fans, you couldn't ask for much more than that. That's the only thing I'm pushing for. We got a legitimate shot if we continue to win."
Winning the Atlantic Division was the Knicks' goal before the season. It seemed like an impossible dream when they got off to an 8-15 start, then lost six straight games to fall to 18-24 before Woodson replaced Mike D'Antoni on March 14. With seven games left, it's still improbable but not impossible.
The Knicks -- who lead the ninth-place Bucks by 21/2 games -- have forged into the division hunt by going 13-4 under Woodson, including 9-0 at home. The Atlantic Division-leading Celtics are 31/2 games ahead of the Knicks after beating the Nets Saturday night. Boston closes out a back-to-back-to-back in Charlotte Sunday night before playing the Knicks Tuesday at the Garden.
The schedule may not be favorable for the veteran Celtics, but the Knicks have to keep winning to keep their dream alive. "We're still thinking about the division," Carmelo Anthony said. "We [have to] take care of our own business and keep playing the way we've been playing and see what happens at the end."
The Heat is 2-0 against the Knicks this season but just 14-10 since the All-Star break. Dwyane Wade (ankle) is expected to play after missing Friday's game. The Knicks have played well against teams with winning records under Woodson, going 6-3 against the Bulls, Pacers, Hawks, Magic and 76ers.
This will be their third game in eight days against a team they could see in the first round. Last week, the Knicks went 1-1 against the Bulls, who are likely to be the No. 8 seed's opponent. But the Knicks can avoid Miami and Chicago by jumping up to sixth. They're three games behind the Magic, which reportedly will be without Dwight Howard for the rest of the regular season with a back injury.
Woodson is aiming higher than sixth, though. "I thought it from day one that we had a legitimate shot to come in and win our division, and we still do," he said. "If you don't push that and force guys to think that way, then you're in it for the wrong reasons. I think if we can host the first round at home in front of our fans, it will give us a lot better chance of getting out of the first round. That's what I'm pushing for."