Knicks Rest Chandler, and Are Able to Exhale at the Finish

Before they took the court against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, the Knicks took a calculated gamble, choosing to rest Tyson Chandler, their defensive conscience, even if it might mean giving up a game and a chance to change the standings.

It all turned out O.K. — albeit by mere inches and mere tenths of a second — when Atlanta’s Marvin Williams blew a driving dunk at the final buzzer, allowing the Knicks to escape with a 113-112 victory.

Amar’e Stoudemire and converged on Williams as he drove the lane, challenging him just enough to prevent the basket. On a day when neither team played much defense, that was the only stand that mattered.

“It was a good drive by him,” said Stoudemire, who looked lively in his second game back from a back injury. “He attacked the rim well. I think Melo and myself both had our hands on the ball, so it was tough for him to make that basket.”

Replays showed that Williams did not release the ball before the buzzer sounded, which was also a credit to the Knicks, for delaying him just long enough on the drive. Williams had intended to hand the ball back to Joe Johnson, but Iman Shumpert cut off the pass.

Replays also appeared to show some contact between Stoudemire and Williams, although Stoudemire denied it.

“I drove the ball and I felt like I got fouled at the end,” Williams said. “But they didn’t call it, so you just move on to the next one.”

It was an encouraging moment for the Knicks all the way around — for the victory it preserved and for Stoudemire’s stout effort in Chandler’s place. He finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds and absorbed several hard hits, appearing every bit recovered from the bulging disk that cost him 13 games.

“I felt great, I felt strong,” he said. “My back feels phenomenal.”

Anthony, who struggled Friday in Cleveland, regained his touch with a 39-point, 10-rebound effort while alternately dueling with Johnson (22 points), Williams (29) and Josh Smith (14). Jeff Teague added 23 points for the Hawks (38-26), who are practically locked into the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

The victory kept the Knicks (34-30) in seventh place, with a half-game lead on the Philadelphia 76ers (33-30), with two games to play. The Knicks also kept alive their slim hopes to catch Orlando (36-28), which lost to Denver on Sunday night, for sixth.

Coach Mike Woodson agreed to Chandler’s request for a day off, concluding it was more important to protect his defensive anchor than to jockey for playoff position. “I think so,” Woodson said. “For him, it is.”

Chandler plans to return to the lineup Wednesday night, when the Knicks close their home schedule against the Los Angeles Clippers. They conclude the regular season Thursday in Charlotte. The playoffs begin two days later.

Chandler is not injured, but he has played a team-high 2,029 minutes and is averaging 36 a game in April.

“I want to be fresh for the playoffs,” Chandler said. “And the coaching staff and medical staff thought it would be best for me to get rest here, because we have one game in four days.”

Without Chandler to hold the defense together, the Knicks turned porous, giving up 65 points in the first half and allowing the Hawks to shoot 58 percent through three quarters. They finally responded in the fourth, holding Atlanta to 7-for-18 shooting.

“It just shows how valuable Tyson Chandler is to our ball club,” Woodson said, adding: “We missed him. We stayed the course.”

Woodson smiled as he called the game an “old-school shootout,” but then admitted: “Yeah, I hated it. I’d like to see some defense.”

The Knicks’ offense more than compensated, as all five starters scored in double figures, including a resurgent Landry Fields, who produced 18 points and went 7 for 8 from the field.

The lead changed hands four times in the final 3 minutes 7 seconds, with the Knicks finally taking a 113-112 lead on Anthony’s 22-footer with 1:40 left. The Knicks blew two chances to pad the lead in the final minute, with J. R. Smith throwing the ball away and Anthony missing a quick 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left.

REBOUNDS

Jared Jeffries rested his sore right knee again Sunday and will be held out of the final two games as well, Mike Woodson said. He is expected back for Game 1 of the playoffs, however. “We’re playing well right now,” Jeffries said. “I can take this time to get myself back ready.” Assuming he skips the final two games, Jeffries will have played in just 6 of the 19 final regular-season games. He reiterated that he did not need surgery. “It’s just playing 10 years in the league,” he said. “It’s just a bad knee.” … Woodson said he also considered resting Carmelo Anthony but that Anthony preferred to play. “He knows his body,” Woodson said. “I’m sure if there’s any issues there, he’ll tell me and we’ll back off.”

For Knicks, Eight Games and Lots of Questions Remaining

The had clawed their way to a 111-107 victory over the Bucks, tightening their hold on a postseason berth. Anthony had been dominant, with 32 points and 10 rebounds, despite injuries and foul trouble. A key supporting player, J. R. Smith, had come through with the game’s winning shot.

Over a strenuous seven days, the Knicks had pummeled the Orlando Magic, split a two-game set with the Chicago Bulls (their likely first-round opponent) and put down the Bucks (their greatest threat to a playoff appearance). Anthony grinned a little.

“I love this moment,” he said. “This is where it gets fun, fighting for a playoff spot, playoffs right around the corner, games that you have to win, going out there and being a part of that and actually winning those games. That’s the fun part.”

The Knicks (30-28) hold a two-game lead for the final playoff spot in the East, with eight games left to play. They have won six of nine games since losing Amar’e Stoudemire and 19 days ago, muting doubts about their depth and fortitude. Yet, as in a great episode of “Lost,” every question the Knicks answer simply triggers three more.

Most pertinent now: Can Anthony keep up his torrid scoring pace over the final eight games? Can Smith be the second option the Knicks so desperately need? Can they keep winning without a reliable point guard? Can their banged-up frontcourt hold up until Stoudemire returns from a back injury?

And, indeed, the greatest mystery: What happens when Stoudemire returns?

Anthony has thrived as an undersized power forward in Stoudemire’s absence, averaging 30 points in nine games — 10 points per game better than his average before Stoudemire went down.

Coach Mike Woodson has already declared that Stoudemire, once he is healthy, will reclaim his starting job at power forward. That means Anthony will return to small forward, where the defenders are generally quicker and better suited to guarding him. It also means that Stoudemire and Anthony will again be competing for scoring chances on the left side of the lane, where both prefer to operate.

Anthony and Stoudemire have been an awkward tandem since the moment that Anthony arrived last year. One could make a case that the Knicks would be stronger with Stoudemire playing off the bench. But that option does not appear to be on the table.

The Anthony-Stoudemire dynamic would not be as great a concern if the Knicks had Lin or another established, healthy playmaker to keep the offense balanced and humming. They do not.

Baron Davis is playing with neck, back and hamstring injuries and is limited on most nights to 25 minutes or less. His play often erodes as the game wears on, and he has trouble keeping up with younger, quicker guards.

Davis was benched for the fourth quarter in Milwaukee, and he played just 2 minutes 31 seconds in the final period a night earlier, in Chicago. He sat out most of the fourth quarter and overtime against the Bulls on Sunday. With no other alternatives, Woodson is now using the rookie Iman Shumpert, a combination guard, as his de facto point guard during crunch time.

The backup point guard situation is a mess. Toney Douglas seemed to get untracked last week in Orlando, but Woodson used him sparingly in the two games against the Bulls and did not play him at all against the Bucks. Instead, Shumpert played 42 minutes.

With Stoudemire out and Jared Jeffries limited by a knee injury, Woodson has few options in the frontcourt as well. He played Anthony for 41 minutes against the Bucks and Tyson Chandler for 39 minutes. In Chicago, Anthony logged 39 minutes and Chandler 37.

Jeffries had been an invaluable reserve, but he is now being held to 15 minutes per game, at the order of the team’s medical staff. (Woodson does not seem to have much confidence in Josh Harrellson, or at least not as much as Mike D’Antoni did.)

So the Knicks still have much to sort out over the final two weeks as they try to hold on to their playoff berth and, perhaps, improve their standing. The remaining schedule is equally divided between home and road games, and between playoff teams and lottery teams. The Knicks have very winnable games against Washington, the Nets, Cleveland and Charlotte. Their fate rests on how they play Miami, Boston, Atlanta and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Assuming the Knicks hold their ground, the same nagging questions will follow them right into the postseason, and into a first-round series in which they will be heavy underdogs against the Bulls or the Heat.

“We feel good about ourselves,” Anthony said Wednesday night before adding, “But it’s not over yet.”

Knicks End Six-Game Losing Streak With a Rout of the Bobcats

The Knicks, who began a four-game trip, made sure not to waste the opportunity. On a night when was absent from the offense (a career-low 1 point), Tyson Chandler had 20 points and 17 rebounds, and Amar’e Stoudemire and Landry Fields each added 18 points as the Knicks pounded the Bobcats, 111-78, to end a six-game losing streak.

The Bobcats, losers of four straight games, have dropped 9 of their last 10.

“We all got tired of losing, and tonight, we kind of took the approach of a must win, and we did that,” Anthony said.

Anthony was 0 for 7 from the field, and it was only the second time in his career he was held without a field goal. Yet the Knicks, starved for offense, won by 33. The performance came after Anthony questioned his own play in a loss to Denver on Saturday night, when he made 10 of 30 shots. Every single teammate outscored Anthony.

“I just wanted everybody to get back their confidence,” said Anthony, who has been bothered by injuries to his right thumb, left wrist and right ankle. “I told you the other day I would try and do a good job of distributing the ball, getting the guys more involved, and finally, I did that tonight.”

“I needed a night like this where I didn’t really have to do too much,” he added. “We still won by a lot.”

The Knicks established control in the first half. Behind by 28-26 early in the second quarter, the Knicks went on a 9-0 run and never lost the lead. They built a 52-42 advantage at halftime and led, 73-57, through three quarters.

Kemba Walker had 22 points for the Bobcats, who played without the starting forward Corey Maggette (hamstring) and point guard D. J. Augustin (toe).

“I know we’re starved to say something positive, but it was a good first step,” Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We’ve got a ways to go. But tomorrow’s another game. They come at us quick, and hopefully, we can build on this.”

The Knicks will face tougher tests on the trip, beginning with Cleveland on Wednesday night, and then it is on to Miami on Friday and Houston on Saturday.

But help could be on the way. The Knicks hope Baron Davis can recover sufficiently from herniated disks in his back to be the point guard the Knicks need to make Anthony and Stoudemire effective together. Davis has not played this season, but he returned to practice Monday. D’Antoni said Davis could play as soon as Wednesday.

“It could be tomorrow; doesn’t mean it is,” D’Antoni said before Tuesday morning’s shootaround. “I have no idea. I wouldn’t rule anything out.”

But Davis, seemingly less happy with his performance in a three-on-three scrimmage, is not as optimistic.

“I know it’s a process, there’ll be some ups and downs,” Davis said before the game. “There’s going to be some good days, there’s going to be some bad days; as long as you can walk away with it pain free with nothing aggravated or anything, I think right now is the most important thing.

“I’d love to play, but I don’t think that’s possibly going to happen,” he said.

The Knicks will be without center Josh Harrellson for six weeks after he had surgery on his fractured right wrist Tuesday.

HEAT 92, CAVALIERS 85 Chris Bosh scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, LeBron James added 18 against his former team and Miami survived another shaky offensive night to beat visiting Cleveland.

Bosh made 10 of 16 shots and reached the 30-point mark for the fourth time this season for Miami. (AP)

MAGIC 102, PACERS 83 Ryan Anderson had 24 points and 8 rebounds to lead visiting Orlando past Indiana.

Dwight Howard had 14 points and 9 rebounds and became the Magic’s career leading scorer. He came in needing 8 points to break the record. Howard picked up his third foul early in the second quarter and sat for most of the first half. (AP)RAPTORS 99, SUNS 96 Andrea Bargnani returned after missing six games with a left calf strain to score 27 of his 36 points in the second half, and host Toronto ended an eight-game losing streak by beating Phoenix.

It was the Raptors’ first win over the Suns in eight years, their last victory against them coming on Feb. 10, 2004.

Marcin Gortat had 21 points and 12 rebounds and Steve Nash had 17 points and 14 assists for the Suns. (AP) FIRE SAUNDERS Seeking different strategies at both ends of the court and improvement from a roster filled with young players like John Wall, the NBA-worst Washington Wizards fired Flip Saunders as their coach after a 2-15 start and replaced him with the assistant Randy Wittman.

“I’m not the miracle-maker here,” said Wittman, who was given the top job through the end of the season. “We’ve got to change our outlook on how we play. Sometimes, when you have such a young team, players get a little confused, I think, when the word development is used; that they’re going to be able to develop just playing. Development has to happen on the practice floor.”

The Wizards fell to 0-7 on the road with a 20-point loss to Philadelphia on Monday. (AP)

NETS’ JAMES OUT FOR SEASON Nets forward Damion James will miss the rest of the season after having surgery to replace a screw in his right foot. James had the screw originally inserted in his fifth metatarsal on Dec. 13, 2010. (AP)