Knicks hold off Lakers' late charge
Sensing a fellow shooter had become gun shy, Kobe Bryant had a message for Carmelo Anthony last summer.
Ignore the critics, he said. Stop worrying about fitting in and get back to a scorer's mentality.
''You have to do what you do best,'' Bryant told him.
That's what Anthony did in a spectacular first quarter Thursday night, and by the time he was done Bryant and the struggling Los Angeles Lakers had no hope of ending their slump.
Anthony scored 22 of his 30 points in the period, and the New York Knicks held on after he departed with a sprained left ankle to beat the Lakers 116-107 in coach Mike D'Antoni's return to Madison Square Garden.
''I was zoned in. I was locked in,'' Anthony said. ''Tonight was one of those games where I had that feeling. I wanted to get it going and I had that feeling going early in the game. My teammates were feeding off of that.''
Firing in 3-pointers and moving the ball to open shooters, things they often struggled to do under D'Antoni, the Knicks won for the eighth time in nine games and improved to 9-0 at home for the first time since the 1992-93 season.
''I wanted to beat them. I wanted to beat the Lakers, especially protecting our home court,'' Anthony said. ''It had nothing to do with Mike. I wanted to protect our home court and win the basketball game.''
Meanwhile, things are starting as poorly for D'Antoni in Los Angeles as they ended in New York. The Lakers, still without Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, were never really in the game while losing their fourth straight and falling to 9-14.
Nash has started running and the Lakers know things will get better once he's back, but that doesn't help right now.
''At this point I wish we had the Washington Generals on our schedule,'' Bryant said.
They're playing Washington on Friday, but it's the Wizards.
Raymond Felton scored 19 points, and Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith added 18 apiece for the Knicks.
Bryant had 31 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers. Metta World Peace finished with 23 points and Dwight Howard had 20.
The Lakers did cut what was a 26-point deficit to 113-107 when World Peace converted a three-point play with 1:27 remaining, but the Knicks took more than a minute off the clock while twice grabbing offensive rebounds on the next possession before Chandler made a free throw with 18 seconds to play.
Anthony, playing at an MVP level after he struggled last season under D'Antoni, made his first three 3-pointers, nearly reaching his NBA-leading average of 9.7 points per first quarter before 2 1/2 minutes were even gone. Bryant tried to keep pace but the Knicks couldn't be stopped, making 17 of 23 shots (74 percent) and building a 41-27 advantage.
''He's fun to watch when he's playing like that,'' Chandler said. ''He's pretty much unstoppable when he's playing that way.''
Anthony finished two shy of the franchise record for points in a quarter, held by Willis Reed and Allan Houston. And he was easily on pace to pass Bryant's building record of 61 points, though he didn't even get halfway there after playing just 5 minutes in the second half.
Anthony said his ankle felt sore and he didn't know if he would be available Saturday against Cleveland.
When it was over, D'Antoni shook hands with Mike Woodson, who replaced him on the New York bench, and a couple of Knicks players before walking off after another rocky night with the Lakers.
He's often been considered an offensive genius whose teams are poor defensively, but right now the Lakers don't really look good on either end.
The Knicks made 22 of their first 30 shots overall and started 8 of 10 behind the arc. Even when the Lakers tried to defend, it didn't work. Howard batted the ball away from Rasheed Wallace in the post, so Wallace simply retrieved it in the corner, buried a 3-pointer, and the lead ballooned to 58-32.
''We are having a re-occurring theme that the first quarter is just not good, and then the first half is not great and in the second half we seem to turn it on, and we need to solve that problem real quick,'' D'Antoni said.
It was 68-49 at the break, but the Knicks lost some of their flow when Anthony went to the locker room with 6:41 left in the third quarter and a 17-point lead. He had landed awkwardly after being fouled by Howard on a drive to the basket, and though he was able to stay in to shoot the free throws, Anthony was removed at the next whistle.
D'Antoni was booed loudly during pregame introductions, Knicks fans who appreciated the rugged defensive teams of the 1990s never truly embracing his offense-first style. D'Antoni said he enjoyed his time in New York and said earlier Thursday the Knicks, who lead the NBA in 3-pointers per game and fewest turnovers, were playing the way he'd like his team to play.
Sure enough, they made 12 3-pointers, right at their average, and turned it over just six times.
D'Antoni couldn't get the Knicks' offense going last season and tensions between he and Anthony seemed strained, though both denied it, when he resigned in March with the team threatening to fall out of the playoff race. The Knicks went 18-6 down the stretch under Woodson, who said he has kept aspects of D'Antoni's system while adding in some wrinkles of his own.
The result is a team that has shot to the top of the Eastern Conference with a 17-5 record.
Notes: The Knicks opened a six-game homestand. They don't play on the road again until they visit the Lakers on Christmas. ... New York has won the last two meetings after dropping nine in a row. ... D'Antoni said he spent his off day in town visiting with his wife and son, who remained in New York after he took the Lakers job last month.