The last time the Washington Wizards faced New York, on Feb. 8, the Knicks were a different team.
Mike D'Antoni was the coach, Carmelo Anthony was sidelined with a groin strain and Jeremy Lin had become an international sensation."LinSanity" was the word of the day.
When the Wizards take on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Friday, they'll be playing a team with a new coach, Mike Woodson, without Lin, and a healthy Anthony, who is enjoying one of thefinest runs of his All-Star career.
Anthony had his best game in a Knicks uniform Sunday against the Chicago Bulls, scoring 43 points, including the game-tying and game-winning 3-pointers, in a 100-99 overtime win.
"This was one of the top," Anthony said in a televised interview after the game. "Overtime, Easter Sunday, everybody's watching, everybody's in the Garden. It was a statement win."
With Lin (knee surgery) and Amar'e Stoudemire (bulging disk in his back) out, and without the constraints of D'Antoni's point guard-centric offense, Anthony has re-emerged as the unquestioned star of this team. He plays best when the he handles the ball and when the offense runs through him.
Anthony has been deadly since taking over the four spot in Stoudemire's absence, improving his scoring from 19.9 to 29.8 points per game.
It's clear Woodson will have some lineup challenges, and perhaps some chemistry issues, if and when Lin and Stoudemire return. Lin is expected to be out until after the first round of the playoffs, and Stoudemire's status still is unknown.
For now, it's Anthony's show.
"We've got a special plan to stop Anthony," Wizards coach Randy Wittman joked after practice Thursday. "A secret plan. It will be unveiled on Friday night."
The best the Wizards (14-44) can hope for is to play the role of spoiler for the Knicks (30-28), who are sitting in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. If seeding remains the same in the season's final two weeks, the Knicks will be looking at a first-round playoff matchup with the Bulls.
"That's what we are, spoilers," Wittman said. "Why not? A lot of teams have spoiled a lot of things that we've tried to do, so why shouldn't we spoil somebody else?
"We've got to go out and play with confidence. It's an opportunity for us to go into a great arena. It's one of those games you look forward to, going to Madison Square Garden. It's the kind of atmosphere you look forward to as a player."
James Singleton was a bit more specific than Wittman about how to stop Anthony.
"You have to focus in on him. When you make one guy the key defensive objective, everyone else tends to buckle sometimes," Singleton said. "Make the team beat you, not just one guy."
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