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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Knicks confident, but they have tough road ahead

New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony gestures after scoring

New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony gestures after scoring a 3-point shot in the first quarter against the New Jersey Nets. (April 18, 2012) Credit: AP

The way Carmelo Anthony has been taking over games with his scoring and Tyson Chandler has controlled them with his defense, and with Amar’e Stoudemire playing again, the Knicks are confident they can beat any team in the playoffs.

But they will have to beat one of the best to reach the second round.

The Knicks will open on the road, likely against NBA-best Chicago or defending Eastern Conference champion Miami.

The Bulls are a better matchup for the Knicks than LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat. But as the final week of the regular season begins, the likely scenario is that the Knicks will finish seventh and face the second-seeded Heat, which has won all three meetings this season by an average of 10.7 points. The Bulls would rather play the 76ers than the Knicks, anyway.

The Knicks have beaten Chicago once — although to do it, they needed 43 points from Anthony, including the tying and winning three-pointers. The other three games were tight, but the Bulls pulled them out, including one without Derrick Rose.

Overall, the Knicks are more talented than the Bulls and Rose likely won’t be 100 percent in the playoffs. Chicago knows how to win without him, but if the Knicks play the Bulls and Rose is limited because of his ankle, the Knicks have to use that to their advantage. The Knicks also would have to work harder than the Bulls and keep them off the glass. Chicago has dominated the Knicks on the boards. The Bulls are plus-48 in the four games, including plus- 24 on the offensive glass.

Luol Deng is a good defender and versatile player, but Anthony has a big scoring advantage over him. Chandler also has been effective against Joakim Noah, but keeping Taj Gibson off the boards has been a struggle for the Knicks.

Miami is a matchup nightmare for every team because James and Wade arguably are the two best players at their positions and power forward Chris Bosh is a perennial All-Star.

James and Anthony usually have great one-on-one duels. Anthony is a better scorer but James is a far superior all-around player. And when he’s locked in defensively and gets out in the open court, no one can stop him.

If the Knicks play the Heat, they will need Stoudemire to have a big series on both ends to counter Bosh and give Anthony help against a team with three major weapons. The Knicks are deeper than Miami and have to exploit that, and they have to take care of the basketball.

James and Wade turn mistakes into demoralizing alley-oop dunks and highlight-reel plays.

Whether it’s Chicago or Miami, the Knicks have a tough road ahead to reach Round 2.

Inside knowledge

If it’s Knicks-Miami, Chandler should be consulted on how to beat the Heat. He helped the Mavericks close out Miami in six games in last year’s NBA Finals and knows some things the Knicks need to do differently if they play the Heat.

“I don’t feel like we’ve necessarily made the adjustments to that team,” Chandler said. “That’s a team that you have to make adjustments and make them pay for how aggressive they are, and we haven’t done that yet in any of the games that we’ve played. We have to be willing to, if that’s our matchup, to sit down, break down tape and really focus in.

“We haven’t played smart basketball against them, not one time that we’ve faced them. We’ve played hard but we haven’t played smart, and we have to play smart against a team like that.”

Lin along to learn

Jeremy Lin is on this trip but still isn’t close to playing. Lin had his knee scoped April 2 and hasn’t started running yet. Mike Woodson said the Knicks would have to win a playoff round or two for Lin to play again, but he wants Lin with them.

“He needs to be around the team, and I mean that from a teaching standpoint,” Woodson said. “So when I’m going over film and teaching through tape and things from various games, he’s there to watch and continue to learn. Not being around, you miss something.”

Nets need to make new friends

The Nets play their New Jersey finale Monday night but aren’t saying goodbye to the state altogether. They will play in Brooklyn next season but will practice in East Rutherford for at least one more year.

The Nets have alienated their fans because they’ve been touting the Brooklyn move since 2004. At least Prudential Center should have mostly Nets fans for Monday’s finale, given that they’re playing the 76ers and not the Knicks.

Prudential Center was filled with Knicks fans Wednesday, cheering the “visiting” team and booing the home team. Nets execs expect it to be different next season.

“In Brooklyn, the days of opposing teams’ fans outnumbering our fans will be over,” Nets CEO Brett Yormark said. “Brooklyn has 2.6 million people and there’s a lot of pride in the borough. We will be Brooklyn’s home team, like the Dodgers were. The Brooklyn brand is huge, and people throughout the borough are going to identify with the Brooklyn Nets.”

Howard needs to rehab back, image

Dwight Howard’s image might be in worse shape than his back. On the same day an Orlando television station reported that Howard called Magic owner Rich DeVos and said he won’t play for coach Stan Van Gundy anymore, it was announced that Howard elected to have back surgery.

Howard’s season is over and he won’t play for Van Gundy anymore; Van Gundy likely won’t be back as Magic coach. Two weeks ago, Van Gundy said he was told by Magic officials that Howard went to management and asked that Van Gundy be fired.

Feeling strongly both ways

A Sports Illustrated poll of 134 NBA players who responded to the survey ranked Van Gundy as the coach they would like to play for least. He received 22 percent of the votes. Boston’s Doc Rivers (22 percent) was the coach they would like to play for most.

Former Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni narrowly finished second to Rivers (21 percent) but also was fifth (4 percent) on the least list, making him the only coach in the top five in both.

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