Knicks Beat Bucks to Stay Ahead in Playoff Race

So it seemed only right when J. R. Smith — flawed, hopeful, often maddening — ended his disorienting night with the shot that beat the on Wednesday night and sent the home as the happy owners of eighth place.

Smith’s 3-pointer with 1 minute 4 seconds left gave the Knicks a 108-107 edge, a lead they never relinquished as they held on for a 111-107 victory.

“Definitely the biggest shot I’ve made since I’ve been here so far,” Smith said softly. “Especially on the road, in this atmosphere. A team that we are batting for that eighth spot with. It’s big for us.”

The victory kept the Knicks (30-28) from falling into an eighth-place tie and losing the season series tiebreaker. Instead, they emerged with a two-game lead over the Bucks (28-30) and firm control over their destiny as they navigate the final eight games of the regular season.

led the way with 32 points and 10 rebounds and hit a huge turnaround jumper down the stretch as the game tipped back and forth. But it was Smith who played the unlikely savior after Luc Mbah a Moute’s second-chance layup gave Milwaukee a 107-105 lead.

Smith had been erratic, even by Smith’s standards, missing 8 of 12 shots up to that point, and committing several glaring errors. But Coach Mike Woodson stuck with him, then called a pick-and-roll for Smith and Anthony that created the winning shot.

“I need J. R.,” Woodson said. “I’m a big believer in J. R. I told him that after the game. I’m in his corner and I’m going to do everything I can to see that he’s successful for this ball club. I think he has a talent and he showed it at the end of the game.”

The Bucks disintegrated down the stretch, missing eight of their last 10 shots, including all five attempts after Smith’s 3-pointer. The Knicks put the game away at the foul line, with two free throws from Steve Novak and one from Iman Shumpert.

“It feels great,” Smith said of Woodson’s confidence in him. “He’s been sticking with me a lot for the last two games. Over and over, he’s been showing his confidence in me.”

Milwaukee’s flashy guards caused trouble for the Knicks all night, with Monta Ellis slashing his way to 35 points and Brandon Jennings adding 22. But Ellis, Jennings and Mike Dunleavy all missed 3-pointers down the stretch, and the Bucks blew an 8-point lead in the fourth quarter.

Anthony was dominant all night, despite foul trouble, despite physical defense from Mbah a Moute, Larry Sanders and Carlos Delfino, and despite two hard fouls — one to his injured right wrist, one to his left fingers, which so angered him that he spiked the ball and earned a technical foul.

The stakes were well defined before tip-off. The Philadelphia 76ers (31-27) had beaten Toronto to further secure their hold on seventh place.

The players seemed to welcome the moment. In an otherwise quiet locker room, the only audible distraction was Frank Sinatra, crooning, “New York, New York” from Anthony’s mobile device as Anthony stretched out on a training table.

Neither team played much defense in the first half, which ended in a 62-62 tie after a series of fast-break dunks and layups and some moments of preposterously sloppy play.

The Knicks were scorching to start the game, making 14 of 16 shots and as they raced to a 14-point lead. Their bench squandered it just as quickly, allowing the Bucks a 26-8 run in a seven-minute stretch.

Smith was not the only culprit, but his mistakes were perhaps the most egregious. He fouled Dunleavy on a 3-point try in the second quarter (an offense he committed again in the third quarter). He rushed a bad jumper after Bucks fans tricked him into believing the shot clock was running down (with a “five, four, three…” chant). Smith then missed a layup, committed a pointless loose-ball foul and got his jumper blocked before Woodson finally yanked him, with the Knicks trailing by 42-38.

In those critical final minutes, no one needed a shot at redemption more than Smith.

“Without a doubt,” he said, conceding, “I wasn’t having the best game all around. My individual defense was terrible tonight. It’s something I’ve got to keep working on and get better at.”

REBOUNDS

Although the turnaround was tight, the Knicks’ 22 ½-hour gap between tip-offs — from 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday to 7 p.m. on Wednesday — was not the shortest this season. A number of teams, including the Nets, have played games scheduled just 22 hours apart, which is the minimum permitted under N.B.A. rules. The Knicks had just 20 hours, however, from the final buzzer in Chicago to tip-off on Milwaukee. “Ain’t nothing we can do about it,” Mike Woodson said. “It’s been that way all season. Our guys understand it.” … Jared Jeffries, who is playing despite a chronic injury in his right knee, is under a 15-minute-a-game limit, Woodson said.

DeRozan Scores 30 as Raptors Cruise Past Knicks

The Raptors, who had lost seven of 10 coming in, never trailed and led by as many as 22.

Gary Forbes scored 19 points, one shy of his career-high, and Jose Calderon had 10 assists as Toronto snapped a three-game skid and handed New York its first defeat under coach Mike Woodson.

Still, the win may have come at a high price for Toronto as DeRozan fell hard after a collision with Calderon with 2:59 left, got up and hobbled straight to the locker room.

Amare Stoudemire scored 17 points, Steve Novak had 15 and Carmelo Anthony 12 for the Knicks, who came in having won six of seven against the Raptors, including three straight in Toronto.

Jeremy Lin made a game-winning 3-pointer on New York’s last visit to Toronto, a 90-87 victory on Feb. 14, but was held in check this time, finishing with six points. Hundreds of fans cheered Lin with signs and Taiwanese flags, but many in the crowd booed whenever he touched the ball.

Trailing by 17 points to start the fourth, the Knicks opened with a 7-0 run, including a three-point play by J.R. Smith and a 3 from Novak. Forbes stopped the run with a pair of baskets before Novak added another 3.

The Knicks would score just one basket in the next four minutes as Toronto surged ahead. Bargnani and DeRozan had consecutive dunks, forcing a New York timeout. After the stoppage, DeRozan dunked off Forbes’ alley-oop off the glass before Forbes forced a steal and drove in for a layup, making it 86-65 with 4:54 left.

Tempers nearly flared in the first after Bargnani leveled Lin with a screen and Anthony responded by hauling down Calderon on a drive to the basket. Calderon got up yelling, and Raptors center Aaron Gray gave Anthony a hard shove. Both Gray and Anthony got technicals, while Bargnani was whistled for an offensive foul.

Bargnani and DeRozan each scored nine in the first and Anthony shot just 2 for 7 as Toronto led 25-16 after one.

Novak hit a 3 at the halftime buzzer but the Raptors, who did not trail in the first two quarters, took a 39-36 lead into the locker room.

DeRozan scored 14 points in the third, two on an impressive alley-oop from James Johnson and two more on a rebound and jumper with less than two seconds left, as the Raptors took a 70-53 lead into the fourth.

NOTES: Stoudemire wore a gray hoodie during early warmups as a sign of support for the family of Florida shooting victim Trayvon Martin. … Knicks F Jared Jeffries, who left Wednesday’s win at Philadelphia with a sore left knee, is expected to undergo an MRI Saturday morning, and will likely miss that evening’s game against Detroit. … Raptors G Jerryd Bayless (left hip) did not play and is likely to miss Saturday’s game at Chicago, coach Dwane Casey said. … Toronto waived F Rasual Butler earlier Friday. Butler had not played in eight games. … For the first time in franchise history, a Raptors game was broadcast in Mandarin. Former Chinese Olympic basketball player Weiping Zhang handled play-by-play duties for the national broadcast on OMNI, a Canadian multicultural station.

Nash, Suns Beat Knicks to End 5-Game Skid

Brown and Grant Hill each scored 14 points for the Suns, who bounced back from an embarrassing 118-97 loss to a Chicago team without Derrick Rose a night earlier.

They got help with a lucky bounce on Brown’s 3-pointer from the corner that nearly hit the top of the backboard before falling in that gave them a five-point lead with 35 seconds left, and Nash closed it out with six free throws in the last 16 seconds.

Former Suns forward Amare Stoudemire scored 23 points for the Knicks, who have lost four straight.

Iman Shumpert added 20 points and Landry Fields had 17, but Carmelo Anthony shot just 5 of 22 while finishing with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Neither team led by more than six in the first three quarters. Hill hit jumpers for the Suns’ last three baskets of the third quarter, giving them a 64-61 edge. Anthony was just 2 of 13 through three but New York stayed in it behind Fields, who played aggressively and scored 10 in the period.

The Knicks then managed just two field goals in the first six minutes of the fourth, and Phoenix finally got some room when a 10-4 run, ending with consecutive baskets by Brown, made it 78-71.

Shumpert’s 3-pointer cut it to 82-80 before Brown answered with his 3 from the corner that had to be reviewed. Shumpert made another 3, but Nash kept hitting from the line, and it ended when Shumpert’s rushed 3 from near midcourt was nowhere near the basket.

Tyson Chandler grabbed 17 rebounds for the Knicks on a night there were plenty of missed shots as both teams showed why they have been struggling so much early in the season.

The surprising culprits have been the team’s offenses, with both struggling just to reach 90 points during their skids. That’s particularly hard to imagine in Phoenix, where the Suns remained potent long after Mike D’Antoni brought his high-powered system to New York, and comes just a year after the teams combined for 250 points here in the Suns’ 129-121 victory.

“That’s pretty ironic you know, because obviously most of the things we do is what Mike did when he was there,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “There’s a few things that we’ve changed, but it’s kind of a mystery to me. I can’t put my finger on the fact that we’re struggling to get to 100 every game. I thought that would be one of the areas where we’d have the least worries and it’s become just the opposite.”

Gentry shook up his rotation in an effort to balance things after noticing the Suns were 27th in the NBA in second-quarter scoring. Rookie Markieff Morris made his first start at forward and Ronnie Price got the nod at shooting guard.

Turns out he didn’t the extra scoring, because the Knicks remained in a seemingly season-long shooting slump.

It was the sixth straight game the Knicks failed to reach 100 points, their second-longest streak under D’Antoni, according to STATS, LLC. They went seven games in a row early in the 2009-10 season, when they had little talent while clearing cap space for free agency.

Now they have All-Star talent in Stoudemire and Anthony, but the offense just isn’t running smoothly without a veteran point guard. They are hoping that when Baron Davis finally is ready from a herniated disc in his back sometime around the end of the month that he can change that.

The Knicks wrap up their string of four homes in six nights with a back-to-back against Milwaukee and Denver on Friday and Saturday.

Notes: D’Antoni said C Jerome Jordan and G Jeremy Lin, assigned Tuesday to Erie of the NBA Development League, would probably return near the end of the month when Davis is back and the team will want to play 5-on-5 in practice. … The Knicks played without reserve guard Bill Walker, who has a sore right knee.