Knicks-Thunder Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 06, 2013
The red-hot runs of Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks are set for a major challenge - a visit to Oklahoma City. Anthony squares off with the only player ahead of him in the scoring race as his Knicks, riding the third-longest winning streak in franchise history, look to make a big statement Sunday against Kevin Durant and the Thunder. While Oklahoma City is battling San Antonio for the Western Conference's top seed, New York (49-26) is second in the East and on the verge of clinching the Atlantic Division thanks to its 11-game win streak. It's the team's longest since winning 15 straight from March 1-April 2, 1994. The latest victory, 101-83 over Milwaukee on Friday, came on the night the Knicks honored the 40th anniversary of their last championship. Anthony is certainly playing like he's ready to lead New York to its first title since 1972-73. He finished with 41 points Friday to tie a team record with his third straight game of at least 40. He's averaging 43.7 points during that stretch while shooting 64.2 percent, including 11 for 19 from 3-point range. "It's April, I guess. It's April. It's time to go," Anthony said. The All-Star forward has increased his scoring average to 28.3 points, right behind Durant's 28.4. If Durant fails to crack 30 points Sunday, Anthony would move past him into the league lead with another 40-plus effort. "Can't say enough, he's been special for us," Woodson said of Anthony, who also had 14 rebounds Friday. Durant, though, did recently tell the NBA's official website that he doesn't care if he misses out on a fourth consecutive scoring title to Anthony. "He can have it," Durant said. "... I mean the stuff he's doing right now, every time he touches the ball it looks like it's going to go in. He's having a nice run right now and his confidence is high. I'm sure he's going to take over. If it happens, cool." What would not be cool by Durant is seeing a win by the Knicks, who have lost their last five visits to Oklahoma City and nine of 11 overall in this series. The Thunder have lost only once - to Denver - in 11 home games since the All-Star break. That stretch includes a victory over the Spurs on Thursday, and they went to Indiana the next night and routed the Central Division-leading Pacers 97-75. Oklahoma City has won three straight and six of seven. "We've been building this thing for the last few weeks and it's starting to look good, so we gotta keep it up," said Durant, who had 34 points Friday despite a bruised left calf. A victory by the Knicks on Sunday would easily be their most impressive of the win streak. They did beat league-best Miami on Tuesday, but the Heat played without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. No other win during the run has come against a division leader. "It's that time of the season where we gotta pick it up," Anthony said. "I felt like I needed to pick my game up and do what I have to do." Anthony missed these teams' first meeting March 7 in New York due to a knee problem, and the Thunder escaped with a 95-94 victory behind Durant's 34 points. J.R. Smith scored 36 in that game, hitting six 3-pointers, but missed a jumper in the final seconds. Smith had yet another 30-point night Friday, his fourth in seven contests. New York has averaged 104.4 points and 49.1 percent shooting over its last eight games, but will be facing an Oklahoma City team which has held its last six opponents to averages of 87.7 and 38.7. The Thunder, scoring 108.8 points at home to rank near the top of the league, will try to solve a Knicks team that's surrendered 86.0 per game in its last four. Oklahoma City third-leading scorer Kevin Martin (14.0 ppg) has failed to reach double figures in three of the past four games, but he keyed the win over the Knicks with 16 points and has averaged 26.6 in his last eight against them. Russell Westbrook was 8 of 22 from the field for 21 points in last month's meeting. His shot remains a bit off, as he's hit 39.7 percent over the past three games, but in that span he has averaged 24.7 points, 8.7 assists and 9.0 rebounds. "We've matured as a team," Westbrook said. "We're doing a good job of playing together at the right time."
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