The New York Knicks are coming off a critical victory over their chief pursuer in their battle to make the playoffs. A matchup with the woeful Washington Wizards, however, also could turn out to be a crucial contest.
The Knicks seek their fourth win in five games when they host the Wizards on Friday night, just before a pair of first-place teams visit Madison Square Garden.
New York (30-28) won 111-107 at Milwaukee on Wednesday, moving two games ahead of the Bucks for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with eight games left for both teams. J.R. Smith's 3-pointer with 1:04 left gave the Knicks the lead, and Carmelo Anthony had 32 points and 10 rebounds.
Tyson Chandler added 19 points and 11 boards for New York, which also is one game behind Philadelphia for the seventh spot.
"This is a game we had to have," coach Mike Woodson said.
It's possible Woodson sees Friday's meeting with Washington in similar terms. A home loss to the woeful Wizards (14-44) would leave the Knicks trying to get back on track Sunday against Miami or Tuesday versus Boston, which has won four in a row and 11 of 14.
The Knicks rebounded Wednesday from a defeat at Chicago the previous night to improve to 12-4 under Woodson. They'll now try to avoid a letdown against the Wizards, whom they've beaten eight straight times and twice this season.
New York has won seven in a row in the series at Madison Square Garden, averaging 114.7 points.
The Knicks will be looking for another big performance from the banged-up Anthony, who has averaged 30.0 points and 50.0 percent shooting in his last nine games. He didn't play in the last meeting with Washington on Feb. 8 due to injury, but scored a game-high 37 in a 99-96 road victory over the Wizards on Jan. 6.
"I'm loving the way (Anthony's) playing right now ... he's playing incredible basketball right now," said Chandler, averaging 13.3 rebounds in his last six games. "He's right where we need him to be at this point in the season heading into the playoffs."
While the Wizards have the second-worst record in the league, they've won two in a row for just the second time this season. Washington held its opponent to 85 points in each victory, knocking off Orlando by eight Wednesday.
Kevin Seraphin had career bests of 24 points and 13 rebounds while tying his high with four blocks, though he didn't have to face injured Magic center Dwight Howard. He's averaged 16.3 points - 9.5 above his average - and 7.9 rebounds in starting seven straight games for the injured Trevor Booker.
Seraphin also has nine blocks in the last three contests.
"The kid's playing with confidence, he's growing every night," coach Randy Wittman said. "I told him I'm gonna stay on him, I don't want him to get satisfied with where he's at."
Washington limited Orlando to 36.6 percent from the field, one night after holding Charlotte to 39.0.
The Wizards haven't won three in a row since April 1-5, 2011.