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First item on Knicks' agenda: Clinch Atlantic Division title Tuesday

J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony congratulate each other

J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony congratulate each other after the Knicks defeated the Miami Heat 102-90 in a game in Miami. (April 2, 2013) Credit: AP

Not since Patrick Ewing patrolled the paint and Pat Riley whistled and shouted directions from the sideline have the Knicks been able to say they're Atlantic Division champions. That could change Tuesday night.

Their magic number is one, so the Knicks would clinch their first division title since 1994 with a win over Washington or a Nets loss to Philadelphia.

It would be another important achievement for the Knicks, who have won 50 games for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. But Carmelo Anthony and Mike Woodson want to accomplish something Ewing and Riley couldn't, something the Knicks haven't done in 40 years. "It's desperate times for our team to win and win now," Woodson said on ESPN Radio Monday. "We're in desperate times right now to try and win an NBA title."

That's been the Knicks' goal since they assembled a veteran team in the offseason. It seemed more of a dream after they followed their 18-5 start with a 20-21 mark from Dec. 17-March 17. But they're peaking at the right time. They have won 12 straight -- highlighted by Sunday's impressive 125-120 victory in Oklahoma City -- and have to be considered a serious title contender.

"I thought we were a serious team when we came out of veteran camp," Woodson said.

Said Tyson Chandler, "We're getting close to playoffs, you have to focus in a little more because you want to be playing your best basketball now. It all comes down to playoffs. Right now, we're playing our best basketball."

Before the playoffs start, the Knicks have some things they hope to achieve. The first is winning the Atlantic, which the Celtics ruled the previous five seasons. "It would mean a great deal for this franchise," Woodson said. "It's been a long time coming since this organization has won a division. It's a major step for our team."

The Knicks also hope to lock up the second seed in the Eastern Conference. They're 21/2 games ahead of Indiana and have a magic number of four with six to play. Then they hope to win a playoff series for the first time since 2000.

The way the Knicks are playing, it would be a major disappointment if they don't at least reach the conference finals.

Anthony, who was named Eastern Conference player of the week Monday, has been impossible to defend lately. He averaged 41.8 points and shot 60.9 percent from the field in leading the Knicks to four wins -- three on the road, including Miami and Oklahoma City.

J.R. Smith has scored at least 20 in eight of the 12 games and is averaging 23.8 in that span. Chandler is showing more mobility since returning from his neck injury and is producing more. Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Jason Kidd, Chris Copeland and Steve Novak have hit big shots or made big plays in the streak. Kenyon Martin, who could return Tuesday night after missing two games with a sore left knee, also has made major contributions.

Anthony will need this kind of help if the Knicks are going to beat teams such as Boston, Chicago, Indiana and Miami and play for a championship.

"Melo's hungry to win and he's got guys around him playing at a high level to win," Woodson said. "It all goes hand in hand. When your best player is committed, you got everybody else feeding into what's going on around us, makes a pretty good ballclub."

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