The New York Knicks are playing much better of late, particularly on defense. They’ll try to take advantage of a Phoenix Suns team that’s struggling to score at home Monday night as they try to extend their winning streak to five games.
New York (14-22) has won four in a row after previously winning consecutive games only once all season. Two of the Knicks’ victories since Jan. 5 have come at Madison Square Garden, where they had lost four straight.
They are allowing just 87.3 points during the winning streak after giving up 107.2 while losing four of their previous five.
A balanced offensive effort was also present in a 102-92 win in Philadelphia on Saturday. J.R. Smith scored 11 of his 14 points in the second quarter as the Knicks outscored the 76ers 32-12. Smith had been benched in the previous game after attempting to untie opponents’ shoelaces in two straight contests.
Smith finished plus-20 against Philadelphia, the best plus-minus posted by a Knicks player in nearly a month. He was one of three players to record at least six assists, with Carmelo Anthony credited with seven to go along with 18 points and nine rebounds.
"I just wanted to be aggressive, attack, get back to my old self, play with a chip on my shoulder, and it worked," said Smith, who was also fined $50,000 by the league. "It was very important for me as well as the team to get out there and be successful with scoring the ball and getting my teammates open shots."
Amare Stoudemire also provided a game-high 21 points in 22 minutes off the bench while going 8 of 10 from the floor.
Smith helped New York sweep last season’s series with Phoenix for the first time since 2002-03, hitting a 3-pointer as time expired in a 99-97 road win on Dec. 26, 2012. He finished with 27 points.
The Suns (21-15) have shot 40.6 percent in losing three of the first four on a five-game trip. They shot 39.4 percent Saturday in Detroit but still lost only narrowly on Josh Smith’s driving basket with 1.2 seconds left after Gerald Green had made three free throws to tie it seconds earlier. Smith had hit a go-ahead 3-pointer one possession earlier for the Pistons.
"Those were two tough shots that Josh made," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said after the 110-108 defeat. "We let him get to the basket at the end, but he was going in the wrong direction and still knocked that down. Before that, we play great defense, they lose the ball and they manage to bat it out to him and he hits the 3. That’s just a bad break for us."
Channing Frye, who averages 11.9 points, scored 21, the third time in five games he’s had at least that many while hitting five or more 3-pointers.
Tyson Chandler and Beno Udrih are both questionable for New York. Chandler has missed three games due to an upper respiratory infection while Udrih has been sidelined for two contests with a knee injury.
Stoudemire is averaging 29.0 points in three games against his former team, though he hasn’t played against the Suns since Jan. 18, 2012.