Even after a decade of futility, the New York Knicks aren’t satisfied with a winning record at the All-Star break.
They’re already focused on playing second-half games that matter.
Amare Stoudemire scored 23 points, leading the Knicks into the All-Star break above .500 with a 102-90 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.
"It was a great win for us," Stoudemire said of his return after missing a game with a sprained right big toe. "We’ll take something into the All-Star break, that confidence that we needed and now we just use that motivation for the second half of the year."
Wilson Chandler added 20 points and Danilo Gallinari had 17 for the Knicks, who at 28-26 matched their average victory total for the last five full seasons. They didn’t even earn their 28th victory last season until April 6 and haven’t been above .500 this late in a season since they finished 48-34 in 2000-01.
But Mike D’Antoni believes they will need to reach the 40-win plateau to end a postseason drought that dates to 2004, so there’s plenty of work left.
"We’ve got a ways to go yet, but at least we’ll have a good break and get everybody back and ready to make that stretch run of 28 games that we need to play full tilt," D’Antoni said.
Raymond Felton finished with 13 points and 11 assists as the Knicks controlled the second half and beat Atlanta for the first time in three meetings this season.
Marvin Williams scored 17 points for the Hawks, who lost for the third time in four games and fell a game behind Orlando for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Mike Bibby had 15 points, and Al Horford had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
"We just totally went away from our game plan," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "We have a recipe when we play on the road and I thought early the warning signs were there early in the first quarter. Especially defensively. I wasn’t as concerned offensively. My main concern was defensively. We had multiple defensive breakdowns and then at the offensive end we just started settling. Being on the road you have to get the shots you want."
It was the first meeting since Marvin Williams and New York’s Shawne Williams, no relation, were suspended for throwing punches near the end of Atlanta’s 111-102 victory on Jan. 28.
Stoudemire has since offered some tough talk about Horford, and there were words exchanged between Felton and Horford late in the game after the Knicks point guard fouled Atlanta’s All-Star center. Felton was called for a technical foul, a few minutes after Horford got one for complaining he was fouled by Stoudemire while making a jumper.
"It happens in the game of basketball. Elbows thrown, attitudes, tempers getting flared, so it happens," Felton said. "It’s all about basketball, everybody being competitive."
Gallinari also was whistled for a tech for grabbing Bibby’s foot as he was on the floor after getting fouled.
New York hit three 3-pointers, two by rookie Landry Fields, in the first 6 minutes of the second half to build a double-digit lead, and the Knicks were never challenged from there, even when Atlanta tried to make a run.
"Any time we did that, they hit a 3 or hit a big basket and got a little demoralizing," Horford said. "We stayed with it. We just didn’t have enough tonight."
The Knicks are one of the league’s most improved teams and will match their victory total from last season with their first victory after the All-Star break. In the meantime, team president Donnie Walsh will see if there’s a deal to be made before next Thursday’s trade deadline, be it a blockbuster for Denver’s Carmelo Anthony or a lesser deal that could fill another hole.
"I like the team that we have right now. I like the position we’re in as far as our cap, but I do think there’s some things that we could use on this team that would help us, so that’s why I’m out there," Walsh said. "Otherwise I’d be saying we’re OK, and I haven’t said that."
They were finally good enough against the Hawks after nine-point losses in each of the first two meetings.
The Knicks held the Hawks to 33 percent shooting in the first quarter, dominating the end of the period to take a 26-19 lead. It grew to 37-23 on Chandler’s 3-pointer with 8:50 remaining in the half, but the Hawks cut the deficit in half and were down 52-45 at the break.
Notes: Knicks C Ronny Turiaf and assistant coach Herb Williams, and the Hawks’ Maurice Evans and Etan Thomas took part in former Knicks star John Starks’ celebrity bowling tournament on Tuesday. The money raised from the event funded 10 academic grants for disadvantaged high school students in the tri-state area and Starks’ hometown of Tulsa, Okla. … Shawne Williams (25) and Herb Williams (53) celebrated birthdays.