Here comes trouble for surging Knicks

The Charlotte Bobcats are one thing. But as the season hits its final stretch, there'll be tougher challenges awaiting Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks. Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

This seven-game win streak really couldn't have come at a better time for the Knicks.

With Friday's victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, who, incidentally, barely resembled an NBA team for much of the game, the Knicks moved to 19 games over .500 for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.

More importantly, they moved 3 1/2 games ahead of the Brooklyn Nets for first place in the Atlantic Division.

And they remained in second place in the Eastern Conference, percentage points ahead of the Indiana Pacers.

"We're in a great groove," J.R. Smith said.

True enough. But here comes the hard part.

The Knicks will face the Boston Celtics on Sunday night and the Miami Heat on Tuesday, the first two games of a brutal final stretch to the regular season.

"Boston is next," Carmelo Anthony said. "They came in and stole one on our home court a couple of months back. We took one on their court, so they’re going to be hungry for payback."

Including the Celtics and the Heat, eight of the Knicks' final 11 opponents are in position to make the playoffs. That's in stark contrast to their victims in this seven-game winning streak. Five of those teams are under .500.

"It's going to be a good test for us," said Smith, whose scored at least 30 points in the last three games. "Hopefully we get Tyson [Chandler] back sooner and we've just got to keep playing. We've just go to keep up our defensive effort."

With Chandler out, the Knicks have allowed 91.9 points per game on 45 percent shooting over the past seven games.

"Everyone's playing with confidence," Anthony said. "We trust one another on the basketball court on both ends."

It would take a lot for the Knicks to lose their division lead at this point. But it's too early to count Brooklyn out entirely. Three of the Nets' final 10 games are against teams currently in playoff position (at Boston, at Indiana and home against Chicago).

Mikhail Prokhorov's crew also has six games against teams under .400.

"We can't worry about that," Mike Woodson has said. "We've got to play our schedule."

Second place in the East, of course, is coveted real estate because it gives a team home-court advantage through two rounds and postpones a potential matchup with the Heat until the conference final.

Said Woodson: "Miami is Miami, they're the champions. Everyone's trying to catch Miami."

Before the Knicks can chase the Heat, they have to get through a rough end to the regular season.

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