NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony simply shrugged his shoulders after one 3-pointer fell, surprised at how easy things came against the Toronto Raptors.
A battle for playoff positioning on Wednesday figures to be much tougher.
Toney Douglas scored 28 points, Anthony and Amare Stoudemire each added 23, and the New York Knicks closed within a half-game of sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a 131-118 rout on Tuesday night for their fourth straight victory.
Chauncey Billups had 13 points and nine assists for the Knicks, who can move ahead of the 76ers for the No. 6 seed when they travel to Philadelphia on Wednesday. It’s a rare key game in the springtime for the Knicks, usually long out of contention by now but headed back to the postseason for the first time since 2004.
“It’s going to be a big game tomorrow night, a very important game for us,” Stoudemire said. “We’re really trying to make a push to move up the standings. And so Philly’s playing well, and we owe them boys.”
The Knicks rang up 78 points in their highest-scoring first half of the season, shot 58 percent overall and coasted to their fourth victory over Toronto this season, sweeping the season series for the first time since 2001-02.
“I thought we did a great job of getting the ball out fast, getting stops first and foremost, getting the ball out and running,” Billups said. “Melo got hot obviously in that first half and he was rolling and we just kind of fed off his energy and his shots.”
Anthony, Billups and Anthony hit consecutive 3-pointers for the Knicks late in the half, with Anthony shrugging his shoulders similar to Michael Jordan against Portland in the 1992 NBA finals after improving to 5 for 5 from beyond the arc before missing his next one.
“It went in,” he said of that 30-footer. “I didn’t think it was going in.”
Or perhaps he couldn’t believe how bad Toronto’s defense was.
DeMar DeRozan had 36 points and 10 rebounds for the Raptors, who played without Jose Calderon (strained left hamstring), Leandro Barbosa (sore right pinky finger), or much fight in the first half. Two days after knocking off Orlando to snap a six-game losing streak, the Raptors never led and trailed by as many as 29.
New York (39-38) moved back above .500, where it spent most of the season before nine losses in 10 games last month dropped the Knicks three games under. They were in sixth place for months before that slump dropped them to the No. 7 spot. With Boston and Miami tied for second, New York may not know until next week which team it would play in its return to the playoffs, so the players largely agreed the seeding doesn’t matter. But they’d like to move up, anyway.
“It’s just something we want to do,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I don’t know if it’s important or not, I don’t think we’ll know until we look back on it, and you might not even know then. So it’s just that tonight, they’re playing well, (Philadelphia is a) hard team on the road, let’s learn to try to win on the road, let’s keep building on what we got.”
The Knicks put it away early, racing to a 13-0 lead after consecutive 3-pointers by Anthony. They scored 39 in the first quarter — two fewer than Butler managed in the whole game in its NCAA championship game loss to Connecticut on Monday — and met even less resistance in the second period.
The Knicks made 14 of 19 shots (74 percent) in the second, with Bill Walker getting some of the easiest. Douglas drove into the lane and threw a behind-the-back pass to a slashing Walker for a three-point play that made it 57-30 with 7:42 remaining. Less than a minute later, there was no Toronto player anywhere near Walker for at least 3 seconds as he stood along the wing, so Billups fired the ball downcourt to him and he drove for a layup.
New York was 15 of 27 (56 percent) from 3-point range.
“They killed us in the first half. We didn’t take them off of the 3-point line like we said we were. They took advantage of it,” DeRozan said.
Rookie Ed Davis had a season-high 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for the Raptors, who got only 8 minutes from injured leading scorer Andrea Bargnani before he shut it down for the night with a sore right ankle.
It was 78-54 at the break after DeRozan banked in a 35-footer at the buzzer. Toronto cut it to 10 midway through the fourth quarter, but Stoudemire and Douglas helped the Knicks quickly open it up again.
Notes: The Knicks are 14-2 when scoring 120 points. … D’Antoni earned his 100th victory as Knicks coach. He is 100-141 in nearly three seasons. … New York has just one home game remaining, hosting Chicago next Tuesday.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)