The Knicks have laid a tripwire around Madison Square Garden this season, staying undefeated there by springing a first-quarter trap on the Lakers en route to a 116-107 win. What brought this game to a near-blowout and a near-comeback was Carmelo Anthony. It must be frustrating for once-Knicks coach and now Lakers leader Mike D’Antoni to see how ‘Melo has changed since D’Antoni resigned, and it’s twist-the-knife cruel that after that pair’s time together was marked by inconsistency, ‘Melo’s smooth hand buried the Lakers for most this game. In his return to MSG (don’t forget Chris Duhon‘s, too!) he saw it all first hand. The trademark of this season has been the Knicks’ ability to whip the ball around the perimeter for better shots and then knock it down, and ‘Melo has been instrumental in both aspects, and continued to be last night. He nearly got the Knicks’ record for points in a quarter when his 22 points in the first Q â€” a run unforgettably started by three straight threes. Then he got injured. Halfway through the third quarter he hobbled off with 30 points and a bad left ankle (the team called it a sprain later). With the Knicks sluggish in the early fourth, the Lakers sort of jumped back into it like a first-time driver learning stick shift. New York had an answer for everything, though, with big threes from J.R. Smith in the fourth. Kobe Bryant had 31 points for L.A., which is now 9-14. … Madison Square Garden for celebrities is like a light for moths, but we doubt this celeb sighting in the L.A. locker room postgame is one to get excited about: Rev. Jesse Jackson. Jackson reportedly spent time hearing out Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant in the locker room after the loss. Sure, it’s probably not the greatest sign to have a man best known for arriving in times of crises arriving in your locker room. Then again, if he can do anything to flip the mojo of this Lakers team, you can bet the team is open to it. … The Bobcats are skidding, having lost their last 10 straight. Atlanta continued Charlotte’s free fall by hitting 57 percent from the field and 48 percent from three in a 113-90 win. Add in a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio and the Bobcats were going to be hard-pressed to win this even if they were mistake free. Devin Harris (20 points) and Louis Williams (13 points) came off the bench to stroke seven combined threes. Ramon Sessions had 16 points for the Bobcats. … Hit the jump to hear about a ROY candidate’s career night …
Just like how Tim Duncan (16 points) was a preternaturally calm player out of college, Portland rookie Damian Lillard (a career-high 29 points) has a rookie calmness about him that’s a little unnerving considering how little time he’s been in the NBA. His 13th game of 20-plus points had the Blazers ahead early, 8-2, and never let Portland fade in a 98-90 win over San Antonio at home. To make sure this wasn’t all for naught,Terry Stotts pushed the chips all in and kept Lillard in the game for the final quarter and change, eschewing his typical breather to start the fourth. That meant hitting the gas against a Spurs team in its fourth road game in five nights, and his bet they wouldn’t keep up paid off. On a pick-n-roll with J.J. Hickson (12 points, 12 boards) just before the 2-minute mark, he took off from about 10 feet and did a casual flip to his off hand for the lefty layup to get Portland up five. After a Duncan bucket, Lillard found Nic Batum rolling up from a baseline screen for a three to go up six. Gregg Popovich‘s face just fell after that. … We watch Portland’s Luke Babbitt hitting threes and jumpers like he’s at Nevada again (and not his last couple seasons spent on the pine) and think he must have switched bodies with somebody like that kid in Durant‘s “Thunderstruck” movie. All right, so taking the talent of a superstar through magical powers isn’t the reason he’s playing so well but there’s no question the beaten-down player locked to the bench by Nate McMillan has become a highly useful player given 20 minutes a night. He’s still Portland’s eighth-best player, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but he’s successful in the Steve Novak tradition. … A transaction you may not have heard about today was Memphis hiring ESPN.com’s John Hollinger to be VP of basketball operations. He created the PER ranking and has been leading the stats-based charge in basketball the way baseball has widely accepted sabermetrics in the Moneyball era. We’re not so sure Hollinger would have brought Gilbert Arenas in like Memphis did a couple years ago … No spoiler alert here: LeBron leads Kobe as the top vote-getters for the NBA All-Star Game. Following those two are Kevin Durant and Carmelo. Duncan deserves to be playing in Houston after getting skunked a year ago in voting and by the coaches, but right now he’s not one of the West’s starting frontcourt spots. Durant, Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin are ahead. … This video of Houston Rockets singing “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel” must be seen. Carlos Delfino gets our seal of approval for bringing the most energy to the rendition. … We’re out like the Rockets’ singing careers.
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