Amid all the talk about their star forward possibly changing teams and the franchise bringing in a new president, the New York Knicks have crept back into the playoff picture with a season-best win streak.
The Knicks will try to extend that streak to six Saturday when they host the NBA-worst Milwaukee Bucks.
New York (26-40) has brushed aside speculation over Carmelo Anthony leaving and rumors of Phil Jackson joining the front office by playing some of its best basketball since March 5. In that span, the Knicks are averaging 114.4 points on 50.2 percent shooting, both ranking among the best in the league.
The five-game win streak has lifted the Knicks only 3 1/2 games behind Atlanta for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 16 remaining.
"Well, regardless of who we play, we’re just taking it one game at a time," Anthony said. "These are teams that we’ve got to play, it’s on the schedule, so we don’t control that. The only thing we can control is whether we win or not."
A key to their recent success has been the solid play of the supporting cast.
On Wednesday at Boston, the Knicks were without center Tyson Chandler for personal reasons and forward Amare Stoudemire as he rested his surgically repaired knees. In their place, Cole Aldrich made his first NBA start and recorded season highs with 12 points and 10 rebounds in a 116-92 victory.
Rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. also stepped up with 22 points off the bench, while Anthony led the way with 34.
"It’s kind of what we envisioned when we came out of camp," coach Mike Woodson said. "For all the ups and downs that we’ve had based on injuries – we got four bigs sitting at home that are pivotal to our ball club – so we are going to need them back to continue this run I think, but I’m very pleased with the way guys stepped up and played."
Stoudemire had averaged 18.0 points over his past five games and is expected to return Saturday, but Chandler’s status is unknown as he deals with an off-court issue.
The Knicks, who play three of their next four at home, definitely need to avoid a letdown against the lowly Bucks before hosting East-leading Indiana on Wednesday.
Milwaukee (13-52), which has dropped back-to-back games and four straight on the road, will close a three-game trip against the Knicks.
Poor outside shooting was an issue for Milwaukee in the first two games on the swing. The Bucks shot 33.3 percent from 3-point range Tuesday against Minnesota, including 2 of 8 in the second half of a 112-101 loss. They followed that with an even worse display Wednesday in Atlanta, where they went 3 of 19 from long range in a 102-97 defeat.
The 15.8 percentage from long range against the Hawks was the Bucks’ second-worst performance of the season.
The Knicks won the first two meetings before Milwaukee handed them a 101-98 road loss on Feb. 3 that was part of a 2-13 tailspin just prior to New York’s current win streak.
Anthony scored 36 points and J.R. Smith added 30, but no other Knicks player had more than seven. Brandon Knight scored 25 to lead five Milwaukee players in double figures.
New York has won four straight against the Bucks at Madison Square Garden.