NEW YORK – While warming up before making his only appearance at Madison Square Garden this season, John Wall spotted movie director and New York Knicks super fan Spike Lee decked out in orange and blue. Wall gave him a hug.
“You’ve been killing it,” Wall said Lee told him.
Wall had been waiting for an opportunity to showcase how much he has improved since his last visit to the Garden nearly a year ago. And with a near-capacity crowd anxious to see the home team extend its winning streak to 13 games and clinch its first Atlantic Division title in 19 years, Wall did steal occasional cheers with his ability to zip past defenders for layups and dunks.
“I just feel like I’m very confident in myself right now, playing at a high level,” Wall said after scoring a team-high 33 points in his lone appearance in New York this season, “but I feel like I didn’t do a good job of getting everybody involved, leading our team to victory or giving ourselves a better chance to win the game or even let it be close.”
Anthony certainly wasn’t going to allow the third-year point guard to upstage him in his own building. Anthony scored a game-high 36 points and put the game out of reach in the third quarter, when he scored 21 of the Knicks’ final 24 points to extend their lead to 24 before sitting the rest of the game.
Trevor Ariza missed the game with soreness in his left knee, leaving the Wizards without their best perimeter defender against Anthony. But Ariza would have had a tough assignment against Anthony, anyway, with the all-star forward in pursuit of his first career scoring title and recently moving past three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant. In four games against the Wizards this season, Anthony scored 117 points. He has scored at least 36 points in each of his past five games and was serenaded with “MVP” chants every time he stepped to the foul line Tuesday.
“Carmelo has been playing out-of-this-world basketball,” Wizards forward Martell Webster said after scoring 10 points. “Those type of players you can’t stop. Just keep them in front of you and hope that they miss. There is no locking down players like that. He’s in a ridiculous zone right now.”
New York shot an impressive 20 of 36 from beyond the three-point line, matching the franchise record for made shots from long distance, as the Wizards were consistently slow on rotations. Anthony, Iman Shumpert, Steve Novak and Chris Copeland all converted at least three shots from three-point range, and sixth man J.R. Smith took long distance to another level. Midway through the fourth quarter, Smith recovered a loose ball near half court, took a few dribbles and knocked down a shot with the shot clock expiring.
“I knocked the ball away. He went and got it at the half-court line. I gave him a little space. He was at 40 feet. I didn’t expect him to pull up from there — and he hit it,” guard Garrett Temple said of Smith while shaking his head. “Sometimes, it’s their night when guys are hitting threes like that.”
The Knicks (51-26) made nine three-pointers in the first quarter and led 36-23 heading into the second. The Wizards got within eight points in the final minute of the half, but the Knicks got a Novak three-pointer and another turnaround jumper from Anthony to enter the locker room up 15.
“We really just didn’t play no D,” Wall said.
The Wizards (29-49) will return home Wednesday to play the defending NBA champion Miami Heat. Whether they resemble the competent and competitive team they’ve shown themselves to be at Verizon Center remains to be seen. On the road, however, they have been anything but, falling to 7-32 away from home.
With two home games and two road games remaining on the schedule, the Wizards could potentially end the regular season on an 11-game home winning streak and an eight-game road losing streak. Bad teams are generally slightly better at home and miserable on the road, but the Wizards have been borderline dominant at home and doormats on the road.
“I’m stubborn, I don’t want to think there is like a road curse,” Wizards center Emeka Okafor said. “I don’t want to think we play differently at home and on the road, but the way it’s been going, how can you not say that?”