NEW YORK (AP) — The Atlantic Division title has gone from preseason goal to late-season stepping stone.
The New York Knicks celebrated their first division title in nearly 20 years Tuesday, a goal they've discussed since training camp, then quickly turned their attention to their future plans:
—Earning the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
—Extending their 13-game winning streak.
—Beating Chicago for the first time this season.
—And then chasing, as J.R. Smith called it, "that gold ball."
The Knicks romped to their first Atlantic Division title since 1994, getting 36 points from Carmelo Anthony and beating the Washington Wizards 120-99 for their 13th straight victory.
"We took care of the division. Now it's about making this run, finishing out the regular season strong and trying to making a push in the playoffs," Anthony said.
Anthony put this one away with 21 points during the Knicks' 37-point third quarter that gave them a 95-71 lead. The NBA's scoring leader added eight rebounds and six assists while becoming the first Knick since newly elected Hall of Famer Bernard King with five straight 35-point games.
"I just think Melo, he's been on a nice run and I mean it's nice to see because and 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 right to win the division tonight."
Iman Shumpert added 18 points for the Knicks, who negated a height disadvantage by tying a franchise record with 20 3-pointers. Smith and Chris Copeland each added 17 points.
On their longest winning streak since winning 15 in a row from March 1 to April 2, 1994, the Knicks can tie the franchise record of 18 in a row, set early in their first NBA championship season of 1969-70, by winning their final five games.
Next up is a visit Thursday to the Chicago Bulls, who have won all three meetings this season and ended Miami's 27-game winning streak last month.
"We want to keep this thing rolling," Anthony said. "If I sit here and say we're not worried about that, I'd be lying to you. We want to keep this streak rolling, continue playing the basketball we've been playing, so our goal is to go in there and try to win this game in Chicago."
The Knicks have won or shared six division titles, but had gone nearly two decades without looking at the rest of the Atlantic from the top.
"It's a great thing to achieve one of your main goals, and now we've just got to go get that gold ball," Smith said.
Division titles aren't particularly important in the NBA — the Knicks don't even hang banners that recognize theirs. It guarantees teams a top-four seeding in the playoffs but not necessarily home-court advantage in a series, which is determined by won-loss record, and Boston coach Doc Rivers said he couldn't even remember talking to the Celtics about winning the division while they were taking the last five Atlantic titles.
But Woodson has been talking about it as a goal since replacing Mike D'Antoni last March. There was little celebration afterward, with many fans having already left when the public address announcer told the crowd the Knicks had won it after Anthony finished his on-court interview.