Houston scores 34 in confidence-building win

NEW YORK (AP) -- They drew charging fouls, came up with steals at
crucial moments and forced a key 24-second violation.

The New York Knicks got back to doing what they used to do best
-- making critical defensive stops -- and avoided their first
five-game home losing streak since 1986 by holding off the Toronto
Raptors 102-94 Tuesday night.

"It's not that we haven't played defense in spurts. If you
break it down by quarters we've had some good spurts, but for this
game we were pretty consistent for 48 minutes," said Knicks coach
Don Chaney, who improved to 3-6 since taking over for Jeff Van

Allan Houston scored a season-high 34 points, including a
three-point play with 3:05 left that ended Toronto's final rally.

New York, which was without Marcus Camby (sore toe), shot
6-for-8 from 3-point range and opened a 20-point lead in the first
quarter, then held off the Raptors after they pulled within one
point twice in the fourth.

"We had a nice cushion to play with, and that was the
difference in the game," said Latrell Sprewell, who added 21
points and helped hold Vince Carter to two points in the first half
and 15 overall -- more than 11 below his average.

Travis Knight played a season-high 26 minutes and grabbed 11
rebounds, and Othella Harrington scored 16 points starting in place
of Camby.

New York looked lax on defense while losing six of seven games,
but the effort on this night was much more intense.

"Every time I drove to the basket there was a man there,"
Carter said. "They did play defense tremendously and with high
intensity. We didn't match it."

The Knicks drew several charges -- one of their defensive
hallmarks the past few seasons -- and came up with steals two times
in the fourth when the Raptors pulled within two.

Toronto got within one point twice after that, but Harrington
scored to restore a three-point lead, and Houston converted his
three-point play the next time. The Raptors got no closer than four
the rest of the way.

Morris Peterson scored 22 points to lead the Raptors, who had
their three-game winning streak snapped. Alvin Williams added 18.

The Knicks could hardly miss in the first quarter, putting on a
jump shooting exhibition. Sprewell hit three of New York's six
3-pointers in the quarter, and the Knicks took a 20-point lead,
28-8, when Sprewell unintentionally banked in a shot as Carter hit
him on the arm.

"In the beginning of the game they got way too many very good
looks," Raptors coach Lenny Wilkens said. "If you let Sprewell
and Houston get those kind of looks early, you're going to have to
dig yourself out of a hole."

Toronto had a 7-0 run before the first quarter ended and pulled
within 12 at halftime, then began the second half with a 12-4 run
to cut their deficit to 58-54. The Raptors never tied it, though,
and the Knicks took a 72-64 lead into the fourth.

It was 86-80 after Shandon Anderson hit a 3-pointer with 5:50
left. Toronto scored the next five points to pull within one, then
got within one again 2 1/2 minutes later.

After Houston made it 91-87, the Knicks forced Toronto into a
24-second violation on its next possession. Mark Jackson hit two
free throws with 2:21 left for a six-point lead, Toronto missed
four shots on its next possession, and Houston hit one of two foul
shots for a seven-point lead.

"We kept talking to each other, reinforcing the issue that
we're going to win a game, we're going to win a close game,"
Houston said. "This is just one game, so we haven't done anything
except set a positive tone for ourselves across the locker room."

Game notes
X-rays on Camby's toe were negative. He will have an MRI on
Wednesday and is day to day. ... The Knicks played on Christmas Day
every year from 1950 through 1988, with all but four of the games
held at Madison Square Garden. ... Houston's previous season-high
was 25 points against Memphis on Dec. 20. ... The Knicks are 4-0
when scoring 100 or more. Toronto dropped to 1-5 when Peterson
scores 20 or more. ... Wilkens is 0-7 coaching on Christmas.