Carmelo Anthony reacts after making a basket during the second...

Carmelo Anthony reacts after making a basket during the second half. (Jan. 6, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- The Knicks went into Friday night's game against the Wizards with a 2-4 record after two bad losses. So coach Mike D'Antoni was amused when he was reminded that before reaching the NBA Finals, the Heat was sluggish early last season after adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

"Yeah," D'Antoni said. "We're just like 'em."

In their fans' wildest dreams, the Knicks will be one day. But on Friday night, they were a team that changed their starting point guard at halftime and needed a three-pointer from an injured Carmelo Anthony with 15.5 seconds left to beat winless Washington, 99-96, at the Verizon Center.

"It was a hard-fought win," said Anthony, who injured his lower back/groin/hip area with about three minutes to go but said he should be able to play Saturday night at Detroit. "We needed this one after starting off slow once again."

The Knicks trailed by 16 points early in the second quarter and were behind 96-95 with 47.4 seconds left in the fourth after John Wall (22 points) hit a twisting layup for the Wizards (0-7).

Anthony (37 points) followed with a missed jumper but got the rebound. After a timeout, he stroked a three to give the Knicks the lead for good.

"He was hurt," said D'Antoni, who initially called the injury a groin issue. Anthony said it is in his hip area, but the Knicks later clarified that it's Anthony's lower back.

Whatever it was, the Knicks needed Anthony to stay on the floor and make the winning shot to avoid a third straight loss to a lower-rung team.

"There's going to be a lot of things we've got to clear up," D'Antoni said. "We're a long ways from being very good. But we have the spirit and we are fighting, so that's good."

But they easily could have lost even after Anthony's three. Wall missed a three-pointer and Chris Singleton was way short on the putback attempt. Knicks rookie Iman Shumpert, who started in place of Toney Douglas in the second half, picked up the rebound and hit one of two free throws. Nick Young's potential tying three-point attempt with two seconds to go rimmed out and Amar'e Stoudemire secured the final rebound.

D'Antoni, after toying with the idea of starting Shumpert, did just that in the second half in place of Douglas. He also dusted off Mike Bibby for his most important minutes as a Knick; the success of the subs will be sure to continue the debate about what the Knicks' starting backcourt should be Saturday night and beyond.

"I still want to think about it and look at it and stuff," D'Antoni said. "We don't want to lose Toney, but we'll do what we have to do."

Bibby, who has foot and back issues, had 11 points, all in the second half. Shumpert, who cramped up at the end for the second straight game, had 10 points, seven assists and five steals. Stoudemire finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Tyson Chandler contributed 12 points and 15 rebounds.

Young had 24 points for the Wizards.

D'Antoni didn't start Shumpert for the opening tip after considering it Thursday.

"We want to be careful not to give him too much too soon," D'Antoni said before the game. 'He's going to play a lot. He'll still play the same amount of minutes and he's going to play with the starters and we'll evaluate it going forward. I could start him, but I want to make sure everyone is good and confident. Any time you throw a pebble in the water, there's ripples.''

Apparently, it was ripples be darned. D'Antoni didn't wait long to replace Douglas and Landry Fields in the first quarter. Shumpert and Bibby both entered at the 6:13 mark.

LIer signs. Amityville product Mike James signed with the Knicks' D-League team, the Erie BayHawks. James, 36, could be emergency guard insurance, though he last played in the NBA in 2009-10 (four games with Washington).

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