With Carmelo Anthony injured, Knicks face daunting task vs. tough schedule

Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks controls the ball

Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks controls the ball against the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden on Friday, April 4, 2014. (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Despite all of the things that have gone wrong for the Knicks this season, they have been fortunate that Carmelo Anthony, for all the pounding he takes, has for the most part avoided injury.

That changed against the Nets.

Anthony strained his right shoulder -- his shooting shoulder -- in Wednesday night's 29-point win by the Knicks. It hampered him in a deflating one-point loss to the Wizards on Friday night that ultimately could hurt the most if the Knicks don't make the playoffs. It definitely bothered Anthony, probably more than his shoulder.

He shot 5-for-14, scored a season-low 10 points, committed a season-high nine turnovers and didn't get a shot off on the last possession against Washington. Anthony rose up to shoot but lost the ball.

Anthony said it's nothing like the pain he felt last year when he played in the postseason with a torn labrum and rotator cuff in his left shoulder. But with five games left in the Knicks' season, so much rests upon Anthony's, well, shoulders.

The Knicks are one game behind eighth-place Atlanta -- two in the loss column -- and their last five are against four of the Eastern Conference's five best teams. All four are among the NBA's top 10 defenses, too.

First up is the Heat on Sunday. The two-time champs are fighting for the No. 1 seed in the conference and are coming off a one-point, double-overtime home loss to Minnesota. It's not the best situation for the Knicks, especially with Anthony less than 100 percent.

"We don't have any choice but to come out fighting,'' J.R. Smith said.

If there is one positive for the Knicks, it's that after Miami, they don't play again until Friday in Toronto. Anthony can rest his shoulder, but the Knicks also have to hope the Hawks drop some games between now and then.

The Hawks own the tiebreaker and have an easier schedule. Three of their remaining seven games are against teams below Atlanta and the Knicks in the standings.

The bottom line is the Knicks have two games to make up and face a must-win against good teams every night with a superstar who may be limited.

Anthony has shouldered the load all season, and now more than ever, with the Knicks' season on the line, he needs help. The Knicks do, too.

Playoffs not that important, apparently

The NBA has tried to denounce the notion that teams are tanking this season to get in the lottery in what's being touted as the best draft in years. But the play of some teams doesn't back that up, nor do the words of one team.

Hawks general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer were quoted in The New York Times as saying finishing with the Eastern Conference's eighth seed isn't driving them. Atlanta let the Knicks back into the playoff race by going 8-21.

The Hawks basically are saying they care about building something substantial and sustaining, which is what most teams want. Ferry and Budenholzer are disciples of the Spurs and Gregg Popovich. But it is important to create winning habits because that helps build something, too. A couple of first-round home games also would be profitable for the owners.

"That's unbelievable for somebody to say they're not worried about being in the playoffs," Knicks swingman J.R. Smith said. "I thought that's what you play for. But obviously not, I guess."

The Hawks still control their destiny, though.

Duncan just wins

Spurs star Tim Duncan has more 50-win seasons than 25 NBA franchises in their history, including the Knicks, who have had 13 in 68 years.

Duncan has won at least 50 games 16 times in his 17 years in the league. The Lakers, Celtics, Suns and Spurs have more than Duncan, and the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers franchise matches Duncan's 16. The only year he missed was the 1999 lockout-shortened 50-game season.

Feeling a draft

The college basketball season ends tomorrow, and pre-draft camps and group and individual workouts for NBA prospects will start soon.

Teams without first-round picks thus far are the Knicks, Nets, Warriors, Pacers and Wizards. There could be more based on protected picks from trades.

If the Pistons, who are having an awful season, are not in the top eight in the lottery, their first-round pick will go to the Bobcats. Detroit has the NBA's eighth-worst record.

Smith sizzling

J.R. Smith's improved play has been a big reason the Knicks have won 12 of their last 16. He's increased his scoring average each month: November (11.7), December (12.4), January (12.9), February (14.6) and March (15.5). In two April games, Smith is averaging 28.0 points.

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