Knicks' 2-1 Texas trip helps clear the blues

Carmelo Anthony looks on during the second half

Carmelo Anthony looks on during the second half of a game against the Dallas Mavericks. (Jan. 5, 2014) (Credit: AP)

A little light suddenly is creeping into the dark space that Carmelo Anthony said the Knicks were in at Thanksgiving -- and essentially every holiday since.

The Knicks still are 11 games under .500, but Anthony said the way they played in going 2-1 on their Texas trip has them in a better place.

"As of right now, as far as this trip goes, I would say that," Anthony said. "We have gotten out of that place. You can see guys doing things that as a team, as individuals, we haven't been doing all season long. It's showing out there on the basketball court on both ends. Guys are starting to communicate more, talk more and have fun. That's the most important thing."

It's also important that Anthony is as engaged as he is, leading the Knicks in other ways besides scoring. He will be a free agent in July, and if the Knicks can't acquire a star for him to play with by the Feb. 20 trade deadline, a good way to improve the chances that he will re-sign would be to make a playoff run.

In Sunday's win in Dallas, Anthony shouted instructions on defense and hustled back in the second half to swat Shawn Marion's layup into the stands. In the fourth quarter, while Anthony was waiting to re-enter the game, he screamed more instructions on both ends.

"At this point, man, when you're searching, trying to find whether it's an identity or ways to win basketball games, all that little stuff helps," Anthony said. "Sometimes guys need to be guided, need to be directed, and that's been happening these last couple of games."

The Knicks (11-22) played inspired basketball in wins in San Antonio and Dallas and could have won in Houston but made late mental mistakes in a two-point loss.

If the Knicks continue to defend and play with the sense of urgency and togetherness they displayed throughout the trip, that dark space could become a distant memory.

Starting Tuesday night, when the Knicks host Detroit, 11 of their next 14 games are at home and only five are against teams with winning records.

"We're starting to come together a little bit more as a ballclub," Mike Woodson said. "We've had our ups and downs, there's no doubt about that. But I point to injuries. Injuries has been a major problem for our team and us not being able to execute in close games down the stretch. Because it's been about six, seven games where if we had done the right thing, I think we could have won those games. But that's behind us and we just got to keep building."

The Knicks proved on the trip that they can win without key players. Their top two point guards, Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni, didn't play in San Antonio. The Knicks beat Dallas without those two and with Tyson Chandler playing only five minutes because of an upper-respiratory infection.

The Knicks played hard in Texas and executed well late in both wins, with Iman Shumpert making key plays down the stretch when San Antonio and Dallas overplayed Anthony.

"We wanted to get the new year off on a positive note," Kenyon Martin said. "We're mad at ourselves for how we're playing. We feel we're a playoff team. The only thing we can do is turn it around, because no one is going to feel sorry for us. That's why this trip was a positive step."

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