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.

Knicks Bounce Back With Another Rout of Pistons

Amare Stoudemire scored 17 points for the Knicks, who are 6-1 since Mike D’Antoni resigned. They lost 96-79 on Friday night in Toronto, but had no trouble with the Pistons for the third time in three meetings this season.

Carmelo Anthony finally got his shot to fall in the third quarter and finished with 15 points, while Jeremy Lin had 13. The bench put it away early in the fourth, allowing some banged-up Knicks to get some extra rest. Lin sat down with a sore left knee but could have returned, while Stoudemire went out with a sore lower back and the Knicks said at the time his return was questionable.

Ben Gordon scored 20 points for Detroit, which lost its fifth straight.

The Knicks came in a half-game ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks for eighth place in the Eastern Conference heading into a potential pivotal meeting Monday night at Madison Square Garden, exactly one month before the regular season ends. Milwaukee has won the first two matchups and could clinch the season-series tiebreaker.

The Pistons are playing without guards Rodney Stuckey (sore left big toe) and Will Bynum (virus) and lacked energy during a difficult portion of their schedule. They came home from a five-game Western trip to lose to Miami on Friday night, then went right back on the road to open a four-game trip Saturday. They shot 37 percent.

New York beat Detroit by scores of 103-80 and 113-86 earlier this season, and needed less than a half to get a big lead that was never really challenged this time.

The Pistons tied it at 31 on two free throws by Jonas Jerebko with 5:28 left in the second quarter, then managed just six points the rest of the half. The Knicks ran off 13 in a row, with Lin’s 3-pointer making it 44-31 with 2:33 remaining, and it was 49-37 at the break.

The only problem in the first half was the continued struggles of Anthony.

The All-Star forward shot 37 percent in his previous five games and was just 1 of 7 in the first half, appearing frustrated by his struggles. Baron Davis appeared to be giving him some encouragement after one badly missed jumper, and Anthony screamed out loud after missing on a drive to the basket.

He got an easy bucket inside early in the third and that got him going. He made 4-of-5 shots in the period, finishing 5 of 12. Stoudemire hit all three shots for seven points in the quarter as the Knicks blew it open.

JR Smith finished with 14 points for the Knicks.

Notes: The Knicks said reserve forward Jared Jeffries is expected to miss two weeks because of inflammation in his right knee. Woodson said he needed to rest the knee and strengthen it. … Woodson said the Knicks are considering sending seldom-used center Jerome Jordan back to the NBA Development League to get in some games. … The coaches could have been on opposite benches had things played out differently last offseason. Woodson was a candidate in Detroit, where he was an assistant under Larry Brown on the Pistons’ 2004 NBA championship team, and also interviewed for openings in Houston and Minnesota. Had he not ended up back in Detroit, Lawrence Frank likely would have been the top choice to take the role as the Knicks’ top defensive assistant to D’Antoni.

Knicks Rout Raptors, 4-0 Under Woodson

Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler each scored 17 points for the Knicks, who bring a week’s worth of momentum to Philadelphia on Wednesday night for a matchup with the Atlantic Division-leading 76ers. The Knicks rode another night of balanced scoring and renewed defensive intensity to a comfortable lead for most of the final three quarters.

DeMar DeRozan scored 17 points for the Raptors. Jose Calderon had 11 points and nine assists in his return from a five-game absence with a sprained right ankle, but backup Jerryd Bayless was lost to a left hip pointer in the second half.

The Knicks were right around their stats through Woodson’s first three games, when they allowed 89 points per game on 39 percent shooting while averaging 112.7 points and outscoring opponents by 16 per game.

It’s a complete turnaround since perhaps their most deflating effort under Mike D’Antoni, a 106-94 home loss to the 76ers on March 11, when the coach lamented that the Knicks didn’t always play hard. He lasted just one more game before deciding to resign last Wednesday.

Effort hasn’t been a problem under Woodson, particularly on the defensive end. Anthony even acknowledged Monday playing with a defensive energy that wasn’t there earlier in the season, perhaps because the new coach has stressed accountability from his top players.

Asked his reaction to Anthony’s comments, Woodson said: “I can’t explain that, I can’t. I wish I could. We probably wouldn’t be sitting in this position that we’re sitting in today, fighting for a playoff spot.”

There’s still plenty of time to get one, especially if the Knicks keep playing like this. They came in a half-game ahead of Milwaukee for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, and despite their inconsistency, are only four games behind the 76ers.

They kept slapping at balls in the fourth to put the game out of reach. Chandler got his hands on one fourth-quarter pass, then Anthony stole it after the Raptors recovered, leading the break and hooking up with Chandler for an alley-oop slam with 5:11 left that made it 95-77 and had the Knicks jumping around in celebration near midcourt.

Andrea Bargnani scored 15 points but shot just 5 of 15 for the Raptors, who finished 2-3 on a five-game trip. A victory would have given them a second winning five-game trip this season.

The teams’ previous meeting came during the height of Linsanity, when Lin made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with a half-second left to give the Knicks a 90-87 victory in Toronto on Feb. 14. Lin scored 27 points that night, but he no longer needs to be the scorer he was then, with many more weapons surrounding him.

Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler combined for 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting in the first quarter, helping the Knicks take a 27-24 lead. Defenses ruled the second quarter, when both teams show below 40 percent. The Knicks led 53-44 at halftime.

The Knicks pushed the lead to 15 with a five-point possession with 7:47 left in the third quarter, as Landry Fields made a layup while Raptors starting center Aaron Gray was fouling Chandler away from the ball. Gray was hit with two technical fouls and ejected for his reaction, and Lin made both free throws before Chandler hit another.

The lead grew to 16 before the Knicks took a 79-68 advantage to the fourth, when they led by as much as 23.

Notes: The teams meet again Friday in Toronto. … The Knicks were again without Baron Davis (strained right hamstring). … The Raptors’ 3-2 trip was from Jan. 22-29 with stops against the Clippers, Phoenix, Utah, Denver and New Jersey. That was their first winning trip of five games or more since Nov. 10-18, 2001.