The No. 7 seed is there if the New York Knicks feel like taking their talents to South Beach.
It’s unclear if they do.
With Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire on the bench, the Knicks nearly blew all of an 18-point, fourth-quarter lead before holding on to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 99-93 on Wednesday night.
JR Smith scored 21 points, including a rally-stopping jumper with 31 seconds left, as the Knicks moved within one victory of wrapping up seventh place in the Eastern Conference and a first-round matchup with Miami.
But the Knicks don’t seem to care about finishing with a higher seed, with Anthony saying he doesn’t expect to play Thursday in the regular-season finale, and players insisting they have no preference which East power they play in the first round.
”Right now it really doesn’t matter,” Anthony said. ”Whoever we play, we’ll have to start on the road anyway, so we just want to start just preparing for whether it’s Chicago, whether it’s Miami, just get ready to go.”
Anthony scored 17 points for the Knicks, but he was on the bench the entire fourth quarter against a Clippers team that was fighting desperately for home-court advantage in the first round.
The Knicks will draw No. 2 seed Miami with a victory Thursday at Charlotte, which has one of the worst records in NBA history, or a Philadelphia loss to Detroit.
If New York loses and Philadelphia wins, the Knicks would fall to the No. 8 seed and open against Chicago, which some say is a better matchup. The Knicks beat the Bulls once, but weren’t all that competitive while losing all three games against the Heat.
”Chicago has had the best record in the league the last two years, so why does everybody jump ahead and say, `Oh, you should dodge Miami and play Chicago?” center Tyson Chandler said. ”I think both of those teams are 1 and 2, so you can pick your poison on them. I feel like we have to believe in ourselves enough that it doesn’t matter who we play.”
Blake Griffin had 29 points and 10 rebounds, and Randy Foye scored 28 points for the Clippers, who played without Chris Paul and fell a half-game behind Memphis for fourth place in the West. The Clippers need the Grizzlies to lose at home to Orlando on Thursday to have the home-court advantage for their first-round series.
Paul sat out after mildly straining his left groin in Tuesday’s 109-102 loss at Atlanta. The Clippers dropped three of their final four games, costing themselves any chance to beat out the Lakers for the Pacific Division title and perhaps a chance to open the playoffs at home.
”It’s tough because we controlled our own destiny for this last week, lost three out of our last four. It’s tough.” Paul said. ”We’ve still got a chance. I’m sure Memphis is going to come out hard and aggressive. I don’t know. Now we just got to sit and wait.”
But they wrapped up their first season with Paul at 40-26 and will make their first postseason appearance since 2006 and just their fifth since 1985.
The Knicks lost their slim chance of earning the No. 6 seed and avoiding the Bulls or Heat when Orlando beat Charlotte earlier Wednesday. The No. 7 spot is within their grasp – given the Bobcats (7-58) have lost 22 in a row.
But it was hard to tell if the Knicks wanted it while sitting key starters down the stretch, though Chandler did re-enter in the final minutes and block one of Griffin’s shots.
”I have great confidence in the guys that come off the bench. I’m a coach who wants to see who’ll make plays. I felt good about the guys that were in at the end of the game,” interim coach Mike Woodson said.
The Knicks led throughout the second half, seemingly putting it away early in the fourth when they opened a 90-72 lead with 7:23 remaining as Smith threw an alley-oop pass to Landry Fields on the break. Fans began chanting ”Beat the Heat!” but suddenly the Knicks – with Philadelphia having already won its game – almost couldn’t beat the Clippers.
With Anthony and Stoudemire sitting down the stretch, the Clippers stormed back and cut it to 94-93 on Griffin’s basket with 52 seconds left.
Smith answered with a jumper, and after Foye’s pass was broken up, Smith hit two free throws to make it 98-93 with 23.5 seconds to go.
The Clippers finished 16-17 on the road, missing their first finish above .500 since moving to Los Angeles in 1984.
”We’ll fight no matter how much we’re down or who’s playing or who’s not playing or who we’re playing. We’ll fight,” Griffin said.
The Knicks led 24-19 after one then got a pair of 3-pointers from Steve Novak and two layups by Fields early in the second while extending the lead to 13. The Clippers cut it to one before New York pushed it back up to 48-39 at halftime.
Notes: Jeremy Lin, recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, shot around on the side during the Knicks’ morning practice, moving very slowly from side to side. The Knicks hope he could return if they reach the second round. … General manager Glen Grunwald, who had the interim tag removed from his title Tuesday, said Woodson is doing a ”fantastic job” but wouldn’t discuss his former college teammate’s chances of remaining. ”I think we need to stay focused on the moment. We’re in the playoffs right now, we need to try and get a couple of wins here this week, and then do as well as we can,” Grunwald said. ”We need to stay focused on that.”