NEW YORK (AP) – The Chicago Bulls have had a great season so far, they’ve reached the 60-win mark, clinched the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed and have the frontrunner for the league’s MVP award.
But out of all of the wins they’ve racked up this season, none have come against the New York Knicks.
In a matchup of two teams riding seven-game winning streaks, the Bulls look to avoid being swept by the Knicks in a season series for the first time in 11 years Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Chicago (60-20) secured the East’s top seed Friday and is one game back of West-leading San Antonio for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wants his team to make a run for the NBA’s best record and isn’t planning on resting his stars.
Thibodeau, who has a reputation of demanding perfection from his players, would probably also like to see his team prove it can beat New York.
The Knicks (42-38) can clinch the East’s sixth seed with one more victory or a Philadelphia loss. They own the tiebreaker with the 76ers but have a much tougher remaining schedule. While Philadelphia concludes the season Wednesday at home against Detroit, New York visits Boston.
The Knicks are in position to sweep the season series from the Bulls for the first time since 1999-2000, but much has changed since they last met on Christmas.
This will be Carmelo Anthony’s first game with New York against Chicago, and the Bulls expect to finally be at full strength. Carlos Boozer sat out the first meeting, a 120-112 home loss Nov. 4, and Joakim Noah was sidelined in a 103-95 defeat at MSG on Dec. 25.
The Knicks might be short-handed this time, though.
Amare Stoudemire, who averages 25.4 points and a team-best 8.2 rebounds, has sat out the last two games with a sprained left ankle and is listed as questionable. If Stoudemire can’t go, New York could have trouble on the glass against a Bulls team that ranks second in the league with 44.1 boards per game.
Although Stoudemire has been sidelined, the Knicks still extended their winning streak Sunday with a 110-109 victory in Indiana.
New York, which had lost six in a row prior to this run, trailed by 11 early in the fourth quarter and was down by six with 3:31 remaining before scoring the game’s final seven points. Anthony had 34 points, made the go-ahead jumper with 4.9 seconds left and blocked a potential winning attempt by Danny Granger.
“It was a big game for us confidence-wise,” said Anthony, averaging 31.5 points in his last eight games after averaging 22.2 in his previous nine. “Coming down the stretch, finishing out the regular season with some good momentum, trying to make a big push.”
The Bulls are also hoping to enter the playoffs heading in the right direction and are eager to put together a crisper effort following Sunday’s 102-99 win over Orlando, which was without Dwight Howard.
Chicago, winner of 19 of 21, shot 60.0 percent but turned the ball over 21 times, one shy of matching a season high set against the Knicks on Christmas.
Derrick Rose bailed the Bulls out by scoring 11 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter. He also made all 10 of his free throws.
“We continue to let teams come back,” said Rose, who has reached the 30-point mark in three of his last five games. “It’s going to hurt us if we continue to do this. We’ve got to learn how to put teams away.”
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