The New York Knicks have a seemingly grueling stretch on the horizon, but should have an easy time with the Charlotte Bobcats Friday at Madison Square Garden,
After the Knicks host the Bobcats, the worst team in the NBA, they are scheduled to engage in battle with Boston, Miami, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Washington and Chicago. All those squads, save the improved Wizards, are headed to the playoffs.
New York is third in the East -- one-half game behind Indiana -- and posted its sixth win in a row Wednesday in a 108-101 triumph over the defensive- minded Memphis Grizzlies. J.R. Smith scored a game-high 35 points off the bench and Carmelo Anthony finished with 22 points for the Knicks, who opened a three-game homestand and won its fourth straight as the host.
The Knicks shot 51.4 percent and scored 21 points off 17 turnovers. Coach Mike Woodson noted how important it is for his team to keep playing well during the final stages of the regular season.
"It's coming down the stretch run and every game is important, and we're playing that way," Woodson said. "That's how it should be at this stage of the season. There's a lot of things at stake."
Playoff positioning is still at stake for the Knicks, who could either take over the second spot or drop to as low as sixth barring a major meltdown. New York has won five or more consecutive games on three occasions this season and owns a 25-10 record at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks will close the homestand Sunday versus the rival Celtics. Center Tyson Chandler is doubtful Friday with a back and knee issue, and has missed the last eight games.
Charlotte has given upper echelon teams fits on certain occasions this season and will begin a three-game road trip against the Knicks. The Bobcats, losers of eight straight away from home, will also make stops in Philadelphia and Milwaukee. They are 6-29 as the guest and 5-15 on the road against the East.
The Bobcats, though, have won three of five games overall, including Wednesday's 114-108 victory over the Orlando Magic. Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson led the charge with 34 points apiece and both made at least 12 shots from the floor. Walker was 13-of-23 shooting and Henderson sank 12 of his 18 attempts for Charlotte, which shot 51.8 percent and got 11 points from Bismack Biyombo.
Walker and Henderson became the third duo in team lore to score 30 or more points in a game. Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace did it back in 2010, while Boris Diaw and Wallace achieved the feat in 2009.
The effort pleased Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap.
"I saw a lot of heart from our team, especially this time of the year when you have no shot at the playoffs," Dunlap said. "Our whole theme has been to improve and let our fans and everyone know that we're still fully engaged."
Charlotte erased a 19-point deficit, which was the largest margin to overcome in a win this season and matched the third-largest hole to battle back from in a win in franchise history.
The Bobcats are averaging 101.6 points per game in the previous five and sport a .454 field goal percentage over that stretch. Henderson is averaging 22.6 ppg in the past 10 games and Walker has an average of 26.3 ppg in the last three contests.
Walker had a game-best 25 points and 11 assists in a 100-98 home loss to the Knicks on Dec. 5 this season. Anthony recorded 23 points in that one for New York, which scored 23 points off turnovers and is 8-2 in the previous 10 meetings between the teams. Charlotte has lost 10 of the 14 matchups at Madison Square Garden.
The two teams will meet again April 15 in Charlotte.