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Hot Knicks welcome more challenging schedule

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - The Knicks know that they aren't supposed to look beyond tonight's game against Toronto. "Taking one game at a time," is one of the most hallowed of all sports cliches, and no one wants to lose to a bad team while waiting to play a good one.

Still, after winning 10 of their last 11 games against mostly mediocre opponents, the Knicks do admit that they are peeking past both tonight's game against the Raptors and Friday's at Washington. That's because beginning Sunday the Knicks will play NBA heavyweights Denver, Boston and Miami in succession.

The Knicks will find out if they are for real.

"We'll get tested more as we go forward with some of the elite teams," coach Mike D'Antoni said Tuesday. "I'm optimistic and I think we can win. It will definitely be a good learning experience to see where we are."

Where the Knicks are heading into tonight's game is on a winning surge not seen since the team was a perennial playoff team. For the first time since finishing the 2000-01 season with a 48-34 record, the Knicks (13-9) are four games over .500. They've won five straight, are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and just four games behind first-place Boston in the Atlantic Division.

Amar'e Stoudemire is thriving as the focal point in D'Antoni's offense. He's scored 30 or more points in every game of the winning streak. Only Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant are averaging more than the 25.3 points Stoudemire is putting up.

But what seems to be thrilling Stoudemire the most is the team is winning, something he vowed would happen when the Knicks signed him this summer.

"I think right now we're playing well and we can't look too far ahead," Stoudemire said. "But the following week is going to be pretty important to us. We are going to be playing championship caliber teams, and we will get a chance to see where we stand."

D'Antoni said what he likes about this team is it believed it could win even when things weren't going well at the beginning of the season.

"They had confidence when we were 3-8," he said. "They thought they could get it done. That's when their will to win kicked in."

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