Almost Perfect Evening Ends With Knicks Division Title

Knicks are Atlantic Division champs for first time since 1994

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Melo shines again and the Knicks finally return to the top of the Atlantic heap.

    Tuesday evening at Madison Square Garden started with the robust voice of an opera singer belting out the national anthem before the Knicks met the Wizards. 

    It was not a premonition of things to come. The best operas are filled with emotional intrigue and tragedy, but there was none of either once the two teams took the court. 

    The Knicks hit nine threes in the first quarter, on their way to a franchise record-tying 20 overall, and the Wizards did what teams playing out the string in a playoff-less season do as the Knicks rolled to a 120-99 win. The winning streak now stands at 13 games and the Knicks officially became Atlantic Division champions for the first time since 1994. 

    While the competition was lacking, the game otherwise had most of the hallmarks that have defined this team's return to such lofty heights. The threes are the obvious one, since they hit so many of them and since the shot has been a prime driver in everything that has gone right offensively for the team all season. 

    Four players hit at least four longballs and almost all of the 36 looks were of the wide-open variety as the Knicks moved the ball expertly around the perimeter the way they do at their best. The one exception was the customary 28-foot attempt by J.R. Smith, which, of course, went in just as it did in Oklahoma City on Sunday and as they have gone in for Smith all season long. 

    Carmelo Anthony was one of the guys who hit four threes and he closed out his abbreviated night by putting up 19 points in the third quarter to finish with 36 and strike another blow in his drive for the scoring crown. That run of self-promotional play came with a side dish of six assists as the division clincher finished a healthy helping of the more rounded Anthony that has been so essential to this year's success. 

    As anyone following the Knicks is surely aware, however, offensive brilliance is only part of the story of this season. There's also the constant cloud of injury hanging over the team's collective head and it was present on Tuesday. 

    Kenyon Martin, who started in place of the resting Tyson Chandler, sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter and could be out of action for a while as a result. This is not the worst time for such a development as the Knicks' prospects wouldn't change dramatically if they were to let Isiah Thomas pick the lineups for the rest of the regular season, but they need an interior reserve come the playoffs badly. 

    If Martin can't fill that role, Mike Woodson will likely be criticized for having him on the court in the fourth quarter of a game long over. That's a bit of a stretch, though, because someone has to play and Martin was well shy of the 25-minute limit he was operating under after missing a couple of games with a sore knee. 

    It's not the ending anyone would choose for a night worth celebrating, but such is the night the Knicks got on Tuesday. Perhaps it's for the best as Martin's injury makes it impossible to spend too much time in the moment when there's so much more to do this season. 

    Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.

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