The Knicks moved into a tie for seventh place with the Sixers in the Eastern Conference and ran their home winning streak to nine games.
It did not matter that the Knicks have key veterans on minute counts as they recover from injuries and unproven youngsters without the full support of Coach Mike Woodson, who favors veterans. It did not matter that what feels like the Knicks’ umpteenth identity change will probably change again before the playoffs when Amar’e Stoudemire returns.
It mattered that Baron Davis had probably his best game as a Knick (18 points) and that Carmelo Anthony (18 points) had an easy day at the office.
J. R. Smith had 23 points along with 6 assists, Steve Novak 18 off the bench and Tyson Chandler added 15 rebounds for the Knicks.
Iman Shumpert, the Knicks’ best perimeter defender, sprained his right ankle in the third quarter and did not return. Successfully guarding the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon will be more daunting if Shumpert cannot play.
“I’m walking around,” he said. “I think I’ll be all right. It wasn’t that bad. It’s just safe precaution because I turned it.”
The Knicks have seven games remaining, four against quality opponents (Heat, Celtics, Hawks, Clippers) and three against subpar foes (Nets, Cavaliers, Bobcats). Woodson said Stoudemire had participated in contact drills on Thursday and would practice Saturday.
“We’ll take it another step tomorrow and see where he is,” Woodson said.
Davis’s performance against the hapless Wizards felt like his All-Star past. He provided the Knicks a lead they would not relinquish by burying a 3 from the wing for the game’s first points. He went on to stake them to a 16-8 advantage before exiting for his first breather.
Davis played the passing lanes, funneled his man into Chandler and simply stood there as a decoy when his isolation-happy teammates scored. Davis scored 7 of the Knicks’ first 11 points and collected two steals as the rest of the starters struggled with their shots. His pair of third quarter 3-pointers helped the Knicks maintain a big lead. He even won the best dressed Knick award on the Jumbotron, according to the crowd, and it was his birthday.
“I came in tonight with kind of like a lighter load,” Davis said. “I think since I’ve been injured and just playing with the injuries, I’ve been pressing, too. I’ve been pressing myself to be right, to give all I can, and not really thinking about my offense or relaxing and settling into a flow. And today, maybe because it is my birthday, I was a little lighter and having more fun in the locker room.”
Davis shot 7 for 9 from the field and said Allan Houston helped him out a lot with his shot. “Think about your balance,” Houston told him. “Think about getting your legs up under you. You have the mechanics to do it.”
“This team took a chance on me when I could barely walk,” Davis said.
The Wizards were stifled on the perimeter by Shumpert before he left and inside by Chandler, shooting 28 percent from the field. They were held without a field goal in a 12-minute stretch that spanned the third and fourth quarter.
“It’s embarrassing is what it was,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. The Wizards’ field goal percentage, points and field goals made (22) were all season lows.
“I tried everything,” Wittman said.
At the shootaround, Woodson endorsed Chandler’s defensive player of the year candidacy: “He’s done everything to put us in a position where we are today,” Woodson said. “You don’t have very many centers that are as committed as he is. Don’t have any agendas; it’s not about Tyson Chandler. It’s always about the team. That speaks volumes.”