Although the New York Knicks are in good position to make the playoffs for the first time in seven years, they're far from satisfied.
The Knicks look to avoid their fourth straight loss Wednesday night when they visit the Houston Rockets to open a three-game road trip.
New York (22-18) is sitting comfortably in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, trailing fifth-place Orlando by 3 1/2 games and leading seventh-place Philadelphia by five. The Knicks, who haven't made the playoffs since 2004, feel like they're good enough to host a first-round playoff series.
That looked like a strong possibility in the middle of last month. New York was tied for the East's fourth-best record on Dec. 12, but has lost nine of 15 since, and is in danger of falling to three games above .500 for the first time since Dec. 5, when it was 12-9.
"We know that four games over .500 is unacceptable," Amare Stoudemire said after Monday's 129-121 loss to Phoenix. "So now we have to fight to get back to where we rightfully belong."
Stoudemire had a season-high 41 points against the Suns, but the Knicks turned the ball over 25 times en route to their third consecutive defeat.
Following the game, coach Mike D'Antoni said it "definitely should be a wake-up call."
Given their upcoming schedule, the Knicks might feel tempted to hit the snooze button.
After this game, the Knicks, losers of five of seven away from Madison Square Garden, visit West-leading San Antonio on Friday and Northwest Division leading Oklahoma City the following night. The Spurs and Thunder are a combined 37-8 at home.
Although the Rockets (19-23) are 11th in the West, they've won five straight home games against New York since a 93-92 loss Nov. 18, 2004. They also won 104-96 at MSG on Nov. 13, their third straight overall victory in the series and 11th in 12 meetings.
Houston's Kevin Martin had 28 points against the Knicks in November, and is averaging 29.3 points in his last six games against them.
Martin scored 36 in Monday's 93-84 victory over Milwaukee, as the Rockets snapped a four-game home losing streak. Houston has now won back-to-back games overall after dropping seven of nine.
"We just need to go back to basics and do what makes us dangerous," said forward Luis Scola, who had 19 points and 14 rebounds against the Bucks. "We did the right thing (today). We got some stops, we kept running. That's the way we need to close games."
Scola scored 24 against New York in November.
Stoudemire had 25 points in that contest, and is averaging 28.8 points in five games against the Rockets since the start of last season. He has scored at least 20 in 25 straight games, four shy of Richie Guerin's franchise record set in 1962.
Danilo Gallinari had 17 points Monday in his return to the lineup after missing six games with a sprained left knee. Raymond Felton finished with seven points.
Felton, who averages 17.7, has totaled 13 points while shooting 3 of 28 from the field in his last two games. The Knicks are 5-9 when Felton scores 15 points or fewer. One of those losses came against the Rockets in November, when he scored exactly 15.