WASHINGTON -- David Stern's gift to the New York Knicks, the second-easiest schedule in the NBA up to this point, has reached its expiration date.
Another win Friday night, 101-95 over the Washington Wizards, made it seven straight victories overall for the Knicks and 12 in their past 13 games (not to mention eight consecutive road victories), but things are about to get a whole lot tougher.
First, Carmelo Anthony drags his inflamed knee (if you believe what the Nuggets are saying) into the Garden for a Sunday afternoon matinee, then the Celtics and Heat come to town on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.
If the Knicks are for real, they'll get a chance to show it next week.
"You can't negate the fact our schedule has been good. But now it gets hard. It'll be a great test coming up, and I think we're ready for it," coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Once again on Friday, the offensive catalyst for New York was Amare Stoudemire, who scored 36 to surpass the 30-point mark for a seventh consecutive time -- tying Willie Naulls' team record -- while also coming up with a key blocked shot against John Wall with 46 seconds left to prevent the Wizards from pulling within three points.
Stoudemire had 11 turnovers to go along with a line that included 13-of-24 shooting from the field and 10-of-11 shooting from the foul line, with 10 rebounds and two blocks. He was backed by Wilson Chandler, who made his first seven shots and finished with 16 points, the same total as Danilo Gallinari. Also, New York got a pair of clutch 3-point shots in the fourth quarter from Landry Fields, and a combined 20 points, 10 assists and seven steals from Raymond Felton and Toney Douglas.
The Knicks played a poor first half but took control in the third quarter, and they made 17 of 18 free throws in the fourth quarter after attempting a total of just 12 in the first 36 minutes.
"I don't think we played great tonight, but that's even more encouraging that we didn't play well and won on the road. Now we'll see," D'Antoni said. "Right now we don't have to be an elite team. We have to stick to our strategy and get to the playoffs, and at the end of year, we need to be an elite team."
The victory moved the Knicks (who were 3-8 just 24 days ago) to 15-9 as they extended their longest winning streak in nearly a decade, and they did it in front of a crowd chock full of New Yorkers, many of whom repeated the "M-V-P" chant Stoudemire heard at the Garden two nights earlier.
"It was almost like we were at home," Stoudemire said. "I think now we're going to be forced to really, really see what we're made of."
Stoudemire, who scored 34 points in each of the Knicks' two previous games, has a chance to become the first player since LeBron James in March and April of 2006 to win Eastern Conference player of the week honors for three consecutive weeks.
The game turned the Knicks' way early in the fourth after Andray Blatche was assessed a technical for gesturing and complaining when he fouled Stoudemire. Gallinari made the technical free throw, Stoudemire made both of his foul shots and the Knicks went to the line 10 times, making nine, over the first six minutes of the fourth quarter to help build their lead to nine and allow them to survive a late burst by the Wizards.
Stoudemire shot only 1-for-6 from the field with three turnovers in the fourth quarter, but he went 8-of-8 from the line and had both of his blocks and four of his rebounds.
"One thing about Amare is he can score," Felton said. "What a lot of teams didn't know about him was that he can score from a lot of positions and in a lot of ways. Everybody knew he was going off the screen and roll and dunking all the time in Phoenix, but he can shoot, he can face up, he has a nice hesitation dribble, he can put the ball on the floor and he's shooting free throws extremely well this year."
The Knicks are looking for him and finding him, too, in the fourth quarter -- a total turnaround from what was happening in the first couple of weeks of the season, when they had trouble even getting the ball into his hands down the stretch of close games.
And when Stoudemire gets the ball, he has a green light to do what he chooses.
"I would say it's about as green as you can get," D'Antoni said. "The guy is making great decisions, doing the right thing, and I don't want to mess it up."
Chris Sheridan is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.