The New York Knicks clinched a National Basketball Association division for the first time in 19 seasons with a 120-99 victory over the Washington Wizards that pushed their winning streak to 13 games.
Carmelo Anthony, the league’s leading scorer, contributed 36 points as the Knicks secured the Atlantic Division title at Madison Square Garden in New York last night. He’s the first Knick to score at least 35 points in five straight games since new Basketball Hall of Famer Bernard King.
“We’ve reached one of our goals that we set at the beginning of the season,” Anthony said in a televised courtside interview. “We’ve been playing great as a group and we’re trying to prepare for the postseason.”
The only two seasons in which the Knicks had longer winning streaks, they reached the NBA Finals.
New York won a franchise-record 18 regular-season games in a row from Oct. 24 through Nov. 11, 1969, the season in which it secured the first of two NBA titles. The team won 15 straight games from March 1 to April 2, 1994, and that season reached the NBA Finals before losing to the Houston Rockets.
The Knicks are 10 games behind the defending-champion Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference and are in line to be the second seed in the playoffs with five games left for each team. Last night’s win took New York’s record to 51-26, its first season with 50 or more victories since 1999-2000.
“Winning a division never felt like it meant as much in basketball as in other sports, but securing that No. 2 seed is a very nice accomplishment,” former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, now an ESPN analyst, said in a telephone interview. “Winning over 50 games in this league is not an easy feat. This is a team that is primed for a really nice run in the playoffs.”
New York won its first division title since 1993-94 after adding Jason Kidd and re-signing J.R. Smith, who have a combined 28 years of NBA experience. The Knicks are the oldest team in the NBA at an average age of more than 31. Kenyon Martin, 35, left last night’s game with a sprained left ankle.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson said winning the division was a long-standing objective.
“When you set goals at the beginning of the season and you follow through with your goals, that means guys are committed,” Woodson told reporters.
New York won eight of its first nine games this season and was 18-5 in December, its best 23-game start since the 1972-73 season, when it last won the NBA title.
Anthony, 28, has scored 172 points in his past five games, including 36 in a 125-120 road victory over Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder April 7. A six-time All-Star, Anthony surpassed Durant for the NBA’s highest per-game scoring average.
“He’s obviously one of the premier scorers in the game, who’s improved as a passer every year he’s been in the league,” Van Gundy said. “He’s also a good rebounder and an adequate defender.”
The success comes after the Knicks in July declined to match a three-year, $25 million contract offer to Jeremy Lin by the Houston Rockets.
Lin came off the bench to lead New York to seven straight wins last season, drawing international attention as the league’s first-ever Taiwanese- or Chinese-American player.
After letting Lin move to the Rockets, the Knicks added Kidd, a 40-year-old guard; 39-year-old center Marcus Camby; 38- year-old forward Rasheed Wallace, and re-signed guard Smith, 27.
With an older roster, the team’s window for winning a championship is narrow, said Earl Monroe, a guard on the Knicks’ last NBA title squad.
“They didn’t get these veteran players for two years from now,” Monroe said in an interview last week. “They got them for this year.”
The team’s success has boosted ticket prices and merchandise sales at a time when team owner Madison Square Garden Co. (MSG:US) is spending $1 billion on a privately financed arena renovation. Shares in the company have surged 66 percent, closing at $57.06
Knicks home games had an NBA-high average listing of $480 on the secondary market this season, according to ticket aggregator TiqIQ, a 57 percent raise from the start of the year and 62 percent higher than the next closest team, the Los Angeles Lakers at $278. New York sold out every home game this season heading into tonight.
Knicks-themed merchandise has led sales since the beginning of the season at the NBA’s online shop and Manhattan store, while Anthony has the league’s best-selling jersey, the first Knicks player to top the list since it was first released by the NBA in 2001-02.
The Knicks will head to the postseason seeking their first playoff series victory since 2000. In four first-round exits since, the Knicks are a combined 3-15 and were swept by the New Jersey Nets in 2004 and Boston Celtics in 2011.
The Knicks’ next game is tomorrow night at the Chicago Bulls. If the standings remain the same over the season’s final two weeks, New York’s first-round opponent would be the Celtics, against whom the Knicks are 3-1 this season.
“They could lose in the first round or they could challenge Miami,” Van Gundy said. “Though any team coming out of the East other than the Heat would be an upset.”
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