With five games left in the regular season, Carmelo Anthony is in position to become the first New York Knicks player to win the scoring title since 1985. Despite having the lead in that race, it's the end of another drought that held the attention of Anthony and his teammates after their last game.
After clinching their first division title in nearly two decades, Anthony looks to continue his remarkable offensive surge and lead the Knicks to their 14th straight win Thursday night when they visit the slumping Chicago Bulls.
Anthony had 36 points, eight rebounds and six assists as New York (51-26) routed Washington 120-99 on Tuesday to clinch the Atlantic Division title for the first time since 1994. Anthony became the first Knick to score 35 in five straight games since Bernard King, who won the Knicks' last scoring title by averaging 32.9 points during the 1984-85 season.
"I just think Melo, he's been on a nice run and ... it's nice to see because I know what he's thinking," coach Mike Woodson said. "He was thinking winning that division tonight and he wasn't going to leave any doubt in anybody's mind that we earned the rights to win the division tonight."
With the division crown locked up, the Knicks have bigger things in mind.
"It's a great thing to achieve one of your main goals, and now we've just got to go get that gold ball," reserve guard J.R. Smith said, referring to the championship trophy.
Realizing those lofty aspirations will be easier if Anthony can maintain his current level of play. He is averaging 40.6 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting 61.1 percent from the field and 58.6 percent (17 for 29) from 3-point range in five games in April. Those performances have led the Knicks to their longest winning streak since a 15-game run March 1-April 2, 1994.
Anthony is averaging 28.6 points, just in front of Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant at 28.3 per game.
While the Knicks appear to be getting hot at the right time, the Bulls (42-35) haven't looked much like a team ready for the playoffs lately. They are 14-18 since the start of February and have lost their last two games to Detroit and Toronto, clubs firmly planted in the lottery. Chicago's last five losses came against teams with losing records.
The Bulls trailed by as much as 16 in Tuesday's 101-98 home defeat to the Raptors.
"We dug ourselves a huge hole at the beginning of the game," said second-year forward Jimmy Butler, a bright spot with a career-high 28 points while going 10 for 12 from the field. "It's hard to claw out of those holes."
The Bulls, though, have won all three meetings with the Knicks this season. Chicago ranks near the bottom of the league with 5.2 3-pointers made per game and a 34.5 3-point percentage, but the Bulls have gone 20 for 42 (6.7 per game, 47.6 percent) from behind the arc against the Knicks. Chicago scores 92.8 points per game but averages 103.7 against New York.
Completing the season sweep of New York could be tough with Chicago hampered by injuries. Veteran guard Richard Hamilton returned from a back injury Tuesday, but the Bulls played without Derrick Rose (knee), Joakim Noah (foot), Luol Deng (hip) and Taj Gibson (knee). It's unclear if any will be able to return against New York.
Though they have been able to lean heavily on Anthony lately, the Knicks are similarly short-handed. New York, already missing veteran big men Amare Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, played without All-Star center Tyson Chandler (neck) on Tuesday and lost Kenyon Martin to a sprained ankle. Both have been ruled out for Thursday.
Anthony has averaged 34.0 points but shot 42.1 percent in two games against Chicago this season.
New York, which leads Indiana by 2 1/2 games for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, has dropped 19 of 22 in Chicago.