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Knicks hope to extend seven-game winning streak, but tough foes loom

Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks celebrates a three

Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks celebrates a three point basket against the Charlotte Bobcats. (March 29, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Knicks are trying to storm into the playoffs the way they started this season.

They have the NBA's longest current winning streak. Their sixth man is on the most prolific scoring spree by a reserve in more than 20 years. And the Knicks are defending and sharing the ball similar to the way they did it when they began 18-5.

"It's back to where it was at the beginning of the season," Jason Kidd said. "Our defense and us moving the ball is deja vu for us when we started in November."

The Knicks have won a season-high seven straight, with J.R. Smith scoring at least 20 six times. He's averaged 34.7 points in the last three and became the first backup to score at least 30 in three consecutive games since Ricky Pierce in 1990.

If the Atlantic Division-leading Knicks (45-26) beat Boston Sunday night, they will be 20 games above .500 for the first time since 2000.

Teams want to be playing their best when the postseason approaches, so this could be a good sign for the Knicks, who haven't won a playoff series since 2000. But they are seeking more than just winning a series.

The Knicks believe they're a championship contender. The next five games, including Tuesday in Miami and next Sunday in Oklahoma City, could paint a better picture of whether there is reason for that.

The five opponents began Saturday's play 85 games above .500. Their seven-game winning streak came against teams that entered Saturday 80 games below .500.

It's important for the Knicks to win the games they're supposed to win and build some habits that are critical to postseason success. But they will be tested during these eight days, including a game in Atlanta and a home game against the Bucks.

"There's no cruise control here," Kidd said. "Everybody is a professional and you got to play every game and try to get better, and that's what we're doing."

Some predicted the Knicks would snap Miami's long winning streak, which Chicago ended at 27 on Wednesday. Now it could be the Heat that stops the Knicks' streak at eight on Tuesday.

There is no doubt that LeBron James and the Heat would be up for that, especially in Miami. But first the Knicks, who likely will be without Tyson Chandler again, have to beat Boston for the second time in six days.

Even though the Celtics are without Kevin Garnett (ankle) and Rajon Rondo (torn ACL), the Knicks consider them a dangerous team. One of the keys to the Knicks' streak is that they haven't taken anyone lightly.

"We're not really thinking about Miami until we get down there," Carmelo Anthony said. "Boston is next. They came in and stole one on our home court a couple of months back. We just took one on their court, so they're going to be hungry for payback."

The Celtics won the previous five division titles and swept the Knicks out of the playoffs in 2011. The Knicks are nearing their first division crown since 1994. After Brooklyn's loss to Utah, they lead the Nets by four games -- five in the loss column -- with 11 to play. The Knicks are a half-game behind the second-place Pacers, who beat the Suns Saturday night, in the Eastern Conference standings.

Winning the division and getting the No. 2 seed are among the Knicks' goals, and they believe they're positioning themselves for a strong finish.

"They're confident and they're playing well and they're making shots," Mike Woodson said. "Our defense is what's been carrying us, I think, in this stretch. That's kind of where you want to be when you talk about trying to finish the season and start a playoff run."

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