The New York Knicks were the Eastern Conference’s worst team a season ago. Now they hope to be one of the squads battling for the conference title.
Having already surpassed their win total from 2005-06, the Knicks try to improve their postseason chances as they visit the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.
New York finished 23-59 last season and missed the playoffs for the second straight year. The Knicks (24-30) beat the Orlando Magic 100-94 Tuesday for their 24th win and are 10th in the East, three games behind Miami and Orlando, which hold the final two spots.
“We’ve got a lot more wins we’re trying to get, so for us to get 24 we wish we would have gotten it in the first half. That would mean we’d be doing that much better and we’d be that much closer,” said Knicks forward Quentin Richardson, who scored 15 points Tuesday. “It’s about trying to get as many wins as we can so we can get one of those playoff spots.”
Jamal Crawford and Eddy Curry each scored 20 points against the Magic while David Lee added 14 and 16 rebounds. Curry, who leads the Knicks with 19.6 points per game, said the team has a different mindset this season.
“Last year, we’re probably doomed from the beginning,” Curry said. “But this year we’re going into games thinking we could win every single game.”
Continuing that optimism may be a challenge as the Knicks travel to Philadelphia, where they have dropped nine of their last 12 games. The 76ers (17-36) have won four of the last five overall meetings, but the teams have split two matchups this season.
Philadelphia is concluding a stretch of seven straight contests at the Wachovia Center, but is taking the court for the first time since the All-Star break. The Sixers lost three in a row entering the layoff, including a 92-85 defeat to the Washington Wizards last Wednesday.
Kyle Korver scored 18 points off the bench while Samuel Dalembert and Andre Iguodala each recorded double-doubles for the Sixers, who shot just 38.0 percent (30 of 79) from the floor and committed 20 turnovers.
Philadelphia is trying to get off to a fresh start following a tumultuous first half of the season, which saw the departure of veteran All-Stars Allen Iverson and Chris Webber. An unhappy Iverson was sent to Denver on Dec. 19 for Andre Miller and Joe Smith, while the oft-injured Webber had his contract bought out on Jan. 11 and is now with Detroit.
“We were definitely distracted by that,” said Sixers forward Steven Hunter, who hopes to be back in the lineup after missing the last contest with a dislocated finger. “It was a circus around here a month or so ago with all that trade talk. Now things are calmed down and everyone’s focused on basketball.”
Despite that focus, the Sixers are 14th in the Eastern Conference and virtually a lock to miss the postseason for the second straight year. Iguodala has certainly done his best to make sure that doesn’t happen, leading the team with 17.7 points. That number has jumped to 22.5 points over the last 13 games since becoming the focal point of the offense.
“When I first got here, he was a complementary player to the other guys that where here,” Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said. “Now his role has changed a little bit being the primary scorer. You put the ball in his hands and you see what he can do.”