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76ers-Knicks Preview

AP - Sports

A few weeks ago when Linsanity was still sweeping the nation, it appeared the New York Knicks might be on track to pass the slumping Philadelphia 76ers for the Atlantic Division lead.

While the 76ers seemed to right the ship this week, the Knicks have fallen further behind them with a winless March.

Philadelphia looks for a third straight easy victory - after a three-week stretch in which it won twice - and tries to hand New York an unhappy homecoming Sunday following a bad road trip.

The emergence of Jeremy Lin sparked the Knicks' eight-game winning streak that went into mid-February. They trailed the first-place 76ers by 7 1/2 games to begin that month, but the deficit was down to three on Feb. 22 after Philadelphia suffered a fifth straight loss.

The Knicks (18-22) have failed to take their momentum into March. They've opened the month by losing four consecutive road games greatly due to poor defense, allowing an average of 111.8 points.

"We have a long way to go as a team but we have a lot of good pieces," forward Steve Novak said. "If we're just able to blend those and figure it out, by the end of the year were going to be tough."

Lin had 14 points in the first two games of the trip and 20 in the last two. He averaged just 5.3 assists in the first three games, then had 13 on Friday but committed five turnovers as New York lost 119-114 at Milwaukee.

"Tonight wasn't a lack of energy, it wasn't a lack of heart or will," Lin said.

While Carmelo Anthony's return hasn't benefited the Knicks, center Tyson Chandler rejoining the lineup certainly could. They're 2-6 with Anthony back - he's averaged 18.4 points - after missing seven games with a strained groin. Chandler (hamstring) might return Sunday after sitting out two games, during which New York was outrebounded by 15 while giving up at least 118 points in each.

The porous defense has made Amare Stoudemire's scoring surge irrelevant, averaging 23.7 points over the past three games.

"Offense should never be a problem," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "What we have to do is have consistent energy, we have to defend harder and we have to have a desperation about us that we need to get in the playoffs."

D'Antoni's club is 5 1/2 back of the division lead after the 76ers (24-17) put together double-digit wins at home in their last two games. They had been in a 2-8 slump.

Two nights after routing Boston 103-71, Philadelphia never trailed in the second of a 104-91 victory over Utah on Friday.

Thaddeus Young missed the Celtics game with a respiratory illness but came back Friday to score 21. The 76ers are now at full strength other than missing center Spencer Hawes (Achilles), though he could return next week.

"(Being healthy) means a lot," said Elton Brand, who missed four games in February with a thumb injury. "It's good to have just about a full group back. You can see what it means."

Evan Turner's emergence also could be a big help. Turner scored 16 points Friday after having a career-high 26 on Wednesday, and he's averaged 11.0 rebounds in three games since joining the starting lineup.

"Evan is such a versatile player," Brand said. "He's such a threat out there on the court."

While the 76ers have dropped five of six on the road, the Knicks have won seven of nine at home.

New York has won six of eight in this series, including an 85-79 home victory Jan. 11 in the lone matchup this season as Anthony and Stoudemire combined for 47 points.

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