Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Chauncey Billups is doubtful for Friday’s game against Cleveland with a thigh bruise, but expectations are on the rise for the Knicks as they head into the final 23 games of their season.
New York is 3-2 since acquiring Billups and Carmelo Anthony at the trade deadline. They own a win over LeBron James and Miami and beat Chris Paul and New Orleans, 107-88, on Tuesday with Toney Douglas scoring 24 points as Billups’ replacement.
“I think if you asked Amar’e, if you asked Carmelo, had asked Chauncey, they think they are as good as anybody in the league,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said Thursday after practice. “So that’s what their expectations are, not to make the playoffs but to be really good in the playoffs.
“And they have been so those are the guys [who are] the driving force and they expect to be good.”
D’Antoni said there “was a chance” Billups could play Friday, but that he might play Sunday at Atlanta or Monday against Utah instead.
The Knicks are currently the No. 6 seed in the East, five games behind Atlanta and just one-and-a-half ahead of Philadelphia.
“The Knicks was in sixth place when we got there and we’re still in sixth place right now,” Anthony said. “So the goal is to make it back to the playoffs. In the playoffs, as you know, anything can happen.
“We feel like we’re a good enough team to make a run in the playoffs. Are we a complete team where we want to be at? No, not at all. But we’re making strides.”
On Friday, they will get another crack at a woeful Cavaliers team that beat them, 115-109, on Feb. 25 in Cleveland in Anthony’s second game as a Knick.
“Yes, yes, tomorrow is a payback game,” said Anthony, who finished with 27 points but suffered a sore elbow in the first Cleveland game.
“It left a bitter taste in my mouth, in the team’s mouth. And we remember that. We hold grudges.”
Anthony said he’s still learning D’Antoni’s offense and said he’s emphasized to his new teammates — the old Knicks — that they should continue to do their thing.
“Yesterday was big step for Toney,” Anthony said. “He stepped up, took that challenge of becoming the starting point guard replacing Chauncey. For him to come out there and be as aggressive as he was, it was big for us, it was big for him confidence-wise.
“We just want Toney to go out there and just be him, just play his game. We try to tell him, we try to tell Landry [Fields], we try to tell Shawne [Williams], ‘Don’t worry about me and Amar’e. Let us feed off of you guys. Let us read you guys. You guys play your game because that’s the only way we’re going to be successful.'”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.