Focused Knicks ready to face Bulls

To Carmelo Anthony, it feels like "forever" since the New York Knicks last faced the Chicago Bulls.

In reality, it was just four weeks ago.

But you can't blame Anthony for overstating it a bit.

So much has changed since the Knicks' March 12 loss in Chicago -- starting with the team's head coach.

Mike D'Antoni stepped down two days after his team's loss to the Bulls. Since then, the Knicks have has won 10 of 13. They enter Sunday's home game against Chicago in sole possession of eighth place in the East and a game above .500.

What's been the key to the turnaround?

To interim coach Mike Woodson, it's simple.

"We're defending much better, and offensively we're making shots," the coach said.

And he's right. The numbers back it up.

In 13 games under Woodson, the Knicks (28-27) are allowing just 87.8 points per game, the lowest mark in the NBA over that span. In 42 games under D'Antoni, opponents scored 96.5 points.

New York is also holding opponents to 42 percent shooting and 93.2 points per 100 possessions under Woodson, who served as a defensive assistant for D'Antoni before the coaching change.

D'Antoni's Knicks allowed foes to shoot 44.7 percent and score 102.4 points per 100 possessions.

The offensive numbers under Woodson are better as well: The Knicks were scoring 102.6 points per 100 possessions and shooting 43.6 percent under D'Antoni.

With Woodson on the sideline, New York is hitting 44.8 percent of its shots and scoring 105.5 points per 100 possessions.

"He's getting guys to play the right way," Tyson Chandler said.

Added Anthony: "I think guys' mentality and focus level is just a little bit different than it was back then [before Woodson took over]."

Woodson's Knicks enter play Saturday a game up on Milwaukee for eighth place in the Eastern Conference (the Bucks play the Blazers on Saturday night).

The Knicks face a difficult and potentially season-defining stretch of games in the next few days.

New York plays Chicago twice -- at home on Sunday afternoon and on the road Tuesday (possibly with Derrick Rose back in the fold). The Knicks then travel to Milwaukee on Wednesday to play a game that will likely decide the season tiebreaker with the Bucks. (Milwaukee leads the series, 2-1. The next tiebreaker is winning percentage in conference games.)

"This is kind of what you want down the stretch," Chandler said. "You want to play against tough teams to prepare you for the playoffs. I feel like it's going to build character."

The Knicks' character (Anthony's, in particular) was in question shortly after D'Antoni left. Anthony said that he was playing with a renewed energy after Woodson took over, leading many to wonder why that energy wasn't there under D'Antoni.

"The way [Woodson's] been able to get through to guys on the team ... holding everybody accountable, responsible out there on the court has been great," Anthony said on Saturday. "We've been responding well."

Regardless of what you think that says about Anthony, it certainly bodes well for Woodson's future in New York.

The former Hawks head man is coaching the rest of the season on an interim basis. But he's made it clear that he'd like to return next year.

If the Knicks hold on to the eighth spot -- without Jeremy Lin and Amare Stoudemire -- it will undoubtedly boost Woodson's candidacy. The Knicks have made the playoffs just once in the last eight seasons and last won a playoff game in 2001.

To get to the postseason, Woodson knows the Knicks need to do exactly what they've been doing since he took over 13 games ago -- defend well and make shots.

"Anytime you do that you're going to put yourself in position to win a lot of games," Woodson said. "That's how we've been playing, and I expect us to continue to play that way if we're going to make the playoffs."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.