The Knicks continued their roll by winning their fourth straight game in an easy 117-86 win against an overmatched Cavaliers squad.
It was the second straight blowout win for New York (19-27), and it will guarantee at least a split of their current eight-game homestand— with an eye on knocking off the Heat on Saturday night to really make their historic Garden stretch count for something.
Head coach Mike Woodson said it’s good to finally get back on a roll at the Garden, something that came routinely last season, but has been a struggle during this disjointed campaign.
“I’d like to think [we are back in a homecourt groove], even though I never thought we’d even be in this position entering the season the way we played the last two years at home,” said Woodson. “But we dug a hole and it’ll take us all to dig our way out. It’s nice to get our first four-game home winning streak for the first time this season.”
Carmelo Anthony was instrumental in New York’s win as he dropped an easy 29 points on 8-of-17 shooting to continue his hot streak. Anthony also added five rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot in the win. The All-Star starter was aided by J.R. Smith’s 19 points, as the reigning Sixth Man of the Year got the start at small forward in the wake of Iman Shumpert’s shoulder sprain. Shumpert is listed as questionable for the Heat game.
Woodson said since his punishment of Smith earlier this month when the coach sat down the mercurial guard twice, Smith has been on his best behavior— and playing his best ball of the season.
“I think he is more relaxed and engaged,” said Woodson of Smith, who has averaged 16 points per game since his last benching. “He’s more in tune to what we want done. It’s working for him because he’s putting in time. It’s nice to see.”
Woodson explained that utilizing the three-guard starting lineup— whether it’s been Shumpert or Smith— to pair with point guards Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni, has been a big reason for the team’s recent success.
“J.R. gives you offense and then Pablo gives you defense,” Woodson said. “Pablo’s in your face on defense and maintains pressure throughout. He tried to make the kid [Kyrie Irving] work, even though it’s tough guarding the kid one-on-one. But our defensive [frontline] got back in transition and built that wall and really supported Pablo for the long run of the game.”
Rookie swingman Tim Hardaway Jr., who has arguably been the second-best player during this homestand and who was rewarded earlier with an appearance in the NBA’s All-Star Weekend Rising Stars game (formerly known as the Rookie-Sophomore game), added a career-high 29 points (18 in the fourth quarter) on 11-of-17 shooting in 31 minutes.
The first-round pick was humble in victory, not even realizing his record-tying night, and gave props to the veterans around him who allowed him to shine.
“Ray did a great job hitting me in position coming off the ball screens. They were leaving me and I was just knocking them down,” said Hardaway, who tied a franchise record for most 3-pointers made by a rookie. “It all started with our bigs setting good screens for our guards. And when someone cut through [the paint] it collapsed the defense and left the perimeter wide open.”
The Knicks were wide open for most of the night and got a balanced scoring attack as five players reached double-digit figures. Not much more was needed, considering the Cavs (16-30) lacked the firepower to hang. Cleveland shot a porous 35.6 percent from the field, including 34.8 percent on 3-pointers.
Irving, an All-Star starter, was solid in defeat in scoring 24 points, but he was all Cleveland had in its arsenal. Irving, a northern New Jersey native, also added six rebounds and three assists. He was aided by newbie Cav, Luol Deng, who contributed 13 points.
Deng, who played high school basketball in New Jersey, also added a game-high 11 rebounds, but neither of the Cavs’ star players could overcome a red-hot Knicks squad that jumped out to a 38-21 lead after one quarter and never looked back.
The 38 points were the Knicks’ season-high for the first quarter.
Knicks notes …
»Hardaway Jr. said he was more than happy to connect with Smith on a few dazzling fastbreaks that ended with Garden-erupting dunks: “I got the rebound and got my Kevin Love on and chest passed the ball full court, so [Smith] could [have] party time.”
»Woodson likes to say that he’s not one for excuses, but did acknowledge that injuries have played a major role in the Knicks’ struggles this season: “Everything we’ve done this year has basically been done on the fly. As a coach, I try to be detailed with preparation. But when guys can’t practice, they can’t develop and bond on the [practice] floor, so you’re basically doing all that during actual games— and that’s hard to do because you’re just hoping it turns out well. But we’re playing good basketball right now and we gotta keep the healthy guys healthy and nurse back the injured guys.
»The Knicks are primarily known as an outside-shooting team, which is evident by their dead-last ranking in free throws attempted (881 attempts or an average of 19 per game). But the Cavs allowed them to almost raise that average by their first-quarter tally alone. New York attempted 16 free throws in the opening stanza, en route to 26 for the game. Anthony led all players with 12 attempts from the charity stripe.
»Hardaway Jr. is playing his way higher into the rotation with every passing game lately, as he once again tallied over 25 minutes of action. Hardaway came into the game averaging just 19 minutes per game, but has played 34 minutes and 31 minutes in back-to-back blowout wins. His time on the floor wasn’t merely mop-up time, as Woodson has entrusted him with early minutes late in the first quarter and beyond.
»The Knicks benefited from the depleted Cavs frontline, as they were missing rugged power forward Anderson Varejao. New York beat the slight Cavs on the glass, 44-36, with a collective effort that featured at least one rebound by every player who checked into the game. Tyson Chandler led the Knicks with eight rebounds, while Jeremy Tyler and Metta World Peace chipped in with six caroms apiece.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.