After Long Absence, Knicks Return to Playoffs

On Sunday, they took a step in distancing themselves from a decade of futility by assuring themselves of their first playoff berth in seven seasons.

The Knicks’s 123-107 victory over the , coupled with the ’ loss to the , clinched the Knicks’ first spot in the postseason since the 2003-4 season — or when Stoudemire was a second-year player for the under .

D’Antoni arrived in New York before Stoudemire and absorbed 103 losses in two seasons without him. Stoudemire, who became a Knicks cornerstone last summer, scored 28 points against Cleveland and found a smiling D’Antoni waiting afterward.

“He was just very appreciative that I was strong enough to come here in a situation where it wasn’t looking great and secondly to take the challenge for myself and also the team to speak so bold at the start of the year about the Knicks are back,” Stoudemire said. “And then be in a position now in the playoffs, which was the ultimate goal that we talked about with Mr. Dolan and his staff.”

Qualifying for the playoffs seems like a small step, but it was never assured for the Knicks in a rickety season disrupted by the blockbuster trade for and Chauncey Billups.

Next, the Knicks (38-38) will look to end another drought. They last won a playoff game a decade ago. ( swept the -led Knicks in 2004.)

The Knicks have cycled through seven coaches and numerous bloated contracts and players since that last playoff victory. spent his first two years as the team’s president patiently slashing payroll, which finally translated into the free-agent signing of Stoudemire last summer and the trade for Anthony this winter.

The Knicks hold the seventh playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, sandwiched between the and the . In the first round, they will probably face the or the , who are separated for the second seed by a half-game.

“That was the first goal,” D’Antoni said of making the playoffs. “It would be nice to have home-court advantage, but we didn’t do that. Other than that, this is as good as we can do up to this point. Now we have to keep getting better defensively, rebounding, all the little stuff.”

The Knicks have played inconsistently since trading for Anthony, and their current three-game winning streak — matching the longest since his arrival — follows a stretch in which they lost 9 of 10.

“I see good signs,” Walsh said. “We’ve got kind of what I thought. These guys can really play. Doing the trade in the middle of the season, I told you before, was disruptive. But individual talent, these guys have.”

The Knicks beat Cleveland after contributing three of the Cavaliers’ 15 wins this season. It was their first victory against Cleveland in 12 games, long before left Cleveland and Anthony joined the Knicks.

After letting the Cavaliers cut a 22-point deficit to 3 on Ramon Sessions’s basket to start the fourth quarter, the Knicks went on a 12-0 run. Bill Walker punctuated the spree with a dunk over Samardo Samuels.

Stoudemire scored 11 points in the first quarter. Anthony added 25 points and scored mostly on isolation jumpers.

“I think everybody should be excited that Knicks basketball is back,” Anthony said. “Every year, this is something we should look forward to, making the playoffs.”

The Knicks caused 22 turnovers and made 10 of their 24 3-point attempts. They did not trail after the first quarter but relaxed at times.

“They were scrappy tonight,” said Cleveland’s Baron Davis, who scored 22 points. “They were a little bit more scrappier tonight than they have been, and they created turnovers, but I think a lot of the turnovers came from the fact we allowed them to speed us up.”

The Knicks finish the regular season against Toronto, Philadelphia, the Nets, Indiana, Chicago and Boston. Instead of offering Anthony, Stoudemire and Billups games off, D’Antoni said he would probably reduce their minutes with the hope of catching Philadelphia, which is a game and a half in front of the Knicks.

The Knicks struggled after Billups returned from a thigh injury, but their winning streak coincides with his resurgence. After scoring 33 points against the Nets on Wednesday, he poured in 20 of his 23 points in the first half Sunday.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 4, 2011

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of coaches the Knicks have had since their last playoff victory as eight.

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