The Atlanta Hawks, trying to hold on to a playoff spot, will face a couple of tough opponents down the stretch. A daunting schedule hasn't stopped the lowly New York Knicks from playing their best basketball of the season.
With four games remaining in the regular season, the Hawks look to take advantage of a matchup with the Knicks when the teams meet Friday night.
New York (23-56) has the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference and it's probably too late to save coach Isiah Thomas' job, but the team has matched a season high with three straight wins. Two of those victories were against division winners Detroit and Orlando.
The Magic are one of four teams left on the Hawks' schedule, as is East-leading Boston. Atlanta (36-42) has a two-game lead over Indiana for the final playoff spot in the East, and both teams have four games remaining.
The Hawks had a chance to secure the tiebreaker advantage over the Pacers on Tuesday night, but lost 112-98 to Indiana.
"We just have to put this game behind us and come out Friday and play better," Atlanta forward Marvin Williams said. "In order for us to hold on to the eighth seed, which we have had for a while now, we have to play with a sense of urgency over these last four games and we can't afford to get complacent."
The Hawks lost for just the fourth time in 14 games despite getting 30 points from Joe Johnson, who is averaging 28.0 in his last four games. Josh Smith added 25 points and 13 rebounds for Atlanta.
Johnson has posted 24.3 points a contest against New York this season, leading the Hawks to wins in each of the teams' three games.
All of those matchups came during the Knicks' 2-17 stretch from Feb. 29-April 4, but they have since bounced back to win three straight to assure themselves of avoiding the first 60-loss season in franchise history. New York has not won four in a row since a six-game run from Jan. 2-13, 2006.
"Finally the spirit of the team is good. The camaraderie of the team is good," Thomas said. "I just think that they're a team now."
Fred Jones made the go-ahead 3-pointer with 3:47 left and scored 15 points as the Knicks beat Charlotte 109-107 on Wednesday night. New York has also matched a season high with three straight wins at Madison Square Garden.
"We want to play as well as we can every night," Jones said. "Of course it's too late to make the playoffs, but it's not too late for us to play well."
Jamal Crawford, who averages a team-best 20.7 points, scored 39 in a 114-109 loss to the Hawks on March 30.