Knicks aim to stay focused in meeting with Wizards

( - The New York Knicks have clawed into the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, but on Friday, they'll try to gain a cushion when they host the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks have won three in a row and inched ahead of the Atlanta Hawks for the final playoff berth in the conference. New York is just fractionally ahead of Atlanta, so every game is important.

All six of the Knicks final games are against teams who have already clinched a postseason spot. The Hawks, who play the Cleveland Cavaliers at home on Friday, have eight games remaining and it's a four-four split among teams headed to the playoffs and teams headed to the lottery.

After winning the last two games on a western trip, the Knicks returned home Wednesday night and obliterated their inter-state rivals, the Brooklyn Nets, at MSG.

J.R. Smith made half of his 12 shots from beyond the arc and scored 24 points, as the Knicks earned a 110-81 win. Smith also had eight rebounds and six assists.

Carmelo Anthony totaled 23 points and 10 boards for the Knicks.

"Our guys are hungry," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "Normally anybody that comes off the West Coast, when you've been out there for a while, that game coming back is normally a tough game, but our guys came out with energy and came out ready to play."

The Knicks, who shot 60 percent from the field and have won 12 of their last 15 games, also received 17 points from Tim Hardaway Jr., 13 from Amare Stoudemire and 10 from Iman Shumpert.

The Wizards earned their first postseason appearance since the 2007-08 season on Wednesday with a 118-92 victory over the Boston Celtics at the Verizon Center.

"You celebrate tonight and get ready to go on the road and win another game," All-Star guard John Wall said. "That's the main thing, try and finish the season as strong as possible for the playoffs and a great playoff seed spot."

Marcin Gortat tallied 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists and Bradley Beal added 19 points, while shooting 7-for-8 from the field. Trevor Ariza contributed 18 points and seven boards for the Wizards, who have won three of four. Wall tallied 13 points and 10 assists.

Washington led by as many as 33 in the fourth and the Celtics didn't come closer than 20 points through the final 12 minutes, as the Wizards cruised to the finish.

The Wizards held the C's under 40 percent shooting and lit up the Verizon Center. Washington shot 62.5 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from long range.

The Wizards have won both of this season's matchups with New York, including a one-point victory at MSG on Dec. 16. The Knicks have taken 12 of the last 15 meetings and are 17-3 in their last 20 as the host in this series.