Melo out: Knicks take control sans star

ATLANTA -- Carmelo Anthony had the best seat in the house (and this house could have been called Madison Square Garden South given the vocal support the New York Knicks received) for the fourth-quarter onslaught the Knicks laid on the Atlanta Hawks, and he never left his seat.

That's right, Anthony sat on the bench for the final 10:14 Sunday night and watched the Knicks play one of their best stretches since acquiring him, using runs of 11-0 and 8-0 to turn a tight game into a blowout in which the team's newest marquee acquisition played only a minor supporting role.

"I was going to give him two minutes, maybe three [of rest]. He had played the whole second half until that point, and then we started going," coach Mike D'Antoni explained.

"Then I said I'll steal another minute, and then we were up 10. And then I'll steal one more minute, and we were up to 15. And at that point, I might as well leave him over there, and I left him forever," D'Antoni said. "We've got another game tomorrow night, and he's played heavy minutes, and any time I can rest him or Amare in this stretch of games and not jeopardize the game, I'll do that."

The 92-79 victory over the Hawks was even more impressive for the Knicks because they did it without two starters and one key reserve as Chauncey Billups (deep thigh bruise), Ronny Turiaf (sore knee) and Bill Walker (sore knee) were all on the shelf, forcing D'Antoni to use Jared Jeffries for extended minutes and to turn to seldom-used Roger Mason as an extra guard off the bench.

Mason played the entire fourth quarter, and two other reserves played key roles: Shawne Williams, who also played the entire final period, made three of his four 3-pointers in the second half, and Anthony Carter sparked the Knicks by being a defensive pest in the latter stages of the third quarter, forcing turnovers and draining a 3-pointer as New York closed the quarter with an 8-1 run to take a six-point lead into the fourth.

After Stoudemire returned, and with Anthony off the court, the big man appeared much more at ease in the offense, putting the ball on the floor, drawing fouls and scoring 10 of the Knicks' 30 fourth-quarter points.

Stoudemire was even serenaded with a pair of "M-V-P" chants from a crowd heavily laden with Knicks supporters.

"I thought we were home for a second, there were so many New York fans cheering us on. The confidence just grew from there, and it was sort of like a home game in the fourth quarter. It was good," said Stoudemire, who finished with a team-high 26 points.

Anthony shot just 6-for-18 but had seven assists and seven rebounds, explaining afterward that his vision was affected when he was poked in the left eye in the first quarter by Hawks forward Al Horford.

The poke caused what Anthony called a "migraine" and prompted him to remove his headband from the second quarter on.

Anthony did not directly answer a question regarding how odd it felt for him to watch the final 10 minutes from the bench.

"We had a quick turnaround man. I looked up, and we were up one, then they were up one, then we went up nine, then we went up 15. It just happened so quick, we got stops, Roger and Shawne hit some big shots, Landry [Fields] played extremely well, and then Amare did what he had to do," Anthony said.

The victory, coming on the heels of an embarrassing home loss to Cleveland in which they surrendered 119 points, kept the Knicks from dropping from sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings to seventh, as the surging Philadelphia 76ers won again.

Nobody on New York's roster would dare admit it, but from being around the team you can almost get the sense that the Knicks are especially relishing the prospect of a playoff matchup with the Miami Heat.

When the locker room first opened to reporters after the game, Stoudemire and Anthony were bantering and laughing about players on the Miami Heat crying after their loss earlier Sunday to the Chicago Bulls, with Stoudemire fingering Chris Bosh as the watery-eyed one (although Bosh, when asked by reporters in Miami whether he had cried, said he almost had but did not).

"I heard Chris Bosh was crying tears," Stoudemire said.

"Tears?" Anthony asked.

"Yeah, tears," Stoudemire replied.

"Wait 'til I call him, man," Anthony said. "I'll be like: 'What are you doing?'"

So ended a night that gave the Knicks a boost of confidence as they head into a stretch in which they'll play three Western Conference opponents in the next four nights, including a back-to-back road set against two teams that have been surging, the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks, before playing 17 of their final 18 regular-season games against teams from the East.

They are clearly a work in progress, with no telling how one game will or will not impact their next.

"We're getting better on the fly," Stoudemire said. "We can become a great team, it's a matter of us being willing to do it every night consistently, and bringing the effort every single night. Tonight we had more effort, and it seems that when we play tougher teams, teams that are tough to beat, we play with more energy.

"And vice versa and on the contrary, when we play teams that are not as good, we don't play with any energy," Stoudemire said. "So if we could play with a consistent energy, we'll be a much better team."

But they'll also need to do that when Anthony and Stoudemire are on the court together, and Sunday showed there will be times when they look to be at their best when one of them is watching -- as strong of a piece of evidence as anything that seven games into the Melo era, they are very much figuring things out on the fly.