Knicks-Cavaliers Preview

The Associated Press

With a playoff spot secured, the New York Knicks are gearing up for the postseason as Carmelo Anthony continues to step up his game.

Amare Stoudemire's return may provide another boost.

Stoudemire is hoping to end a 13-game absence when New York visits the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night.

New York, which clinched a spot in the postseason after Milwaukee lost at Indiana on Thursday night, has gone 9-4 while Stoudemire has been recovering from a bulging disk in his back. Anthony has been the main reason for the team's success during that stretch, averaging a league-high 32.2 points in April.

He scored 33 to lead the Knicks (33-29) past New Jersey 104-95 on Wednesday, had 35 on Tuesday in a win over Boston and scored 42 in a loss to Miami on Sunday.

"He's playing unbelievable right now," said center Tyson Chandler, who added 18 points and 10 rebounds Wednesday. "He's playing, if not the best, definitely in the tops right now, as far as individual basketball."

Anthony, though, refused to take all the credit, deferring accolades to his teammates. Steve Novak and J.R. Smith each hit three 3-pointers off the bench Wednesday for the Knicks, who are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, one game ahead of eighth-place Philadelphia.

New York will be making its second straight trip to the postseason following a six-year absence.

"Guys are feeling comfortable with their shot right now," Anthony said. "They get it and make something happen."

Some have wondered, though, if Stoudemire's impending return will take shots away from the red-hot Anthony. Anthony averaged 14.0 points while shooting 39.4 percent in his last seven games before Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin went down with injuries March 24, though New York went 6-1 in that stretch.

If he returns Friday, Stoudemire may have to shake off some rust, much like Kyrie Irving had to do in Cleveland's 103-87 loss to the 76ers on Wednesday.

Irving returned after missing nine straight games with a sprained shoulder and scored nine points while shooting 4 of 10 from the field.

"It felt good to be back out there," Irving said. "I really felt good finally getting my legs back under me. I'd rather be out there on one leg than sitting on the bench."

Coach Byron Scott and the organization mulled shutting down the rookie for the remainder of the season rather than risking further injury to the No. 1 overall pick, but Irving pleaded to play.

"Kyrie and I talked the other day a bunch via text and he kept telling me how much it was eating him up sitting on the bench," Scott said. "He's a competitor. He wants to play. He wants to be out there with his teammates."

Irving isn't sure how much he'll be on the court with the Cavaliers (20-41) finishing another disappointing season, though he said he'll play as much as he's allowed.

"Most likely I won't play in all five (remaining games) knowing coach Scott, but we'll see how it goes," Irving said. "I've been putting my case in and letting him know I'm 100 percent and ready to go."

Irving and Stoudemire missed the most recent meeting March 31, when Smith scored a game-high 20 points off the bench in New York's 91-75 win.

Irving and Anthony scored 22 points apiece in the Knicks' 120-103 win Feb. 29. The Cavs beat the Knicks at home 91-81 on Jan. 25 despite Irving being held to seven points.

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