With three key players out with injuries, Stephon Marbury had 38 points and nine assists to lead New York to a 108-101 win over Toronto on Friday night.
New York is in seventh place in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference playoff race, just 1 1/2 games ahead of eighth-place Boston.
Tim Thomas and Penny Hardaway did not play on Friday because of groin injuries. Allan Houston, who had been sidelined for four games with a bruised quadriceps, returned, but played just eight minutes in the victory. Reserves DerMarr Johnson and Michael Sweetney made big contributions, with Johnson producing 15 points and seven rebounds.
“We need everybody to step up,” said Houston, who won’t play Saturday night at Detroit. ”(Marbury) could have 38 and we could have still lost the game.
“Those 38 points were big, but I think what was even bigger was guys like DerMarr coming in and playing good defense and Sweet doing the little things.”
Sweetney, a rookie forward, hit a pair of free throws, stole a loose ball from Vince Carter and dunked to put New York up 80-79 in the fourth quarter, and the Knicks never trailed again. Sweetney finished with eight points and nine rebounds.
“They know how to play. All they needed was playing time,” Marbury said, praising Johnson and Sweetney. “We needed this game.”
Detroit is coming off a lackluster 84-75 defeat at San Antonio on Thursday night, as the Pistons to scored only 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Pistons coach Larry Brown said his players didn’t compete down the stretch.
“It just killed me to watch,” he said. “I don’t care how you think the game is being officiated, you have to keep playing. … Hopefully this is a lesson learned and we will move on.”
STANDINGS (through March 26): Knicks - 3rd place, 9 GB, Atlantic Division. Pistons - 2nd place, 7 1/2 GB, Central Division.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Knicks - F Sweetney, F Kurt Thomas, C Nazr Mohammed, G Shandon Anderson, G Stephon Marbury. Pistons - F Tayshaun Prince, F Rasheed Wallace, C Ben Wallace, G Chauncey Billups, G Richard Hamilton.
TEAM LEADERS: Knicks - Marbury, 20.7 ppg and 9 apg; K. Thomas, 8.4 rpg. Pistons - Hamilton, 17.8 ppg; B. Wallace, 12.8 rpg; Billups, 5.6 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Pistons, 2-1.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 17; Knicks, 92-88. At New York, Marbury finished with 28 points, nine assists and five steals, and the Knicks outscored the Pistons 15-6 in the final 2:21 to snap a two-game losing streak.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Knicks - 13-22 on the road; Pistons - 24-10 at home.
INJURIES: Knicks - F Thomas (groin); G Houston (quadriceps); C Cezary Trybanski (knee); F Hardaway (groin); G Frank Williams (groin); C Dikemebe Mutombo (abdomen). Pistons - F Tremaine Fowlkes (groin).