Knicks pull away from Bulls, 103-95

New York Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire (1) defends New York Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire (1) defends against Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose (1) in the second quarter of their NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden. (Dec. 25, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

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It seems beside the point at this stage to compare the current Knicks to last season's lost winter edition, but Saturday it was impossible to resist.

So just this one last time:

There they were again, playing on national television at noon on Christmas Day, decked out in green and facing one of the most dynamic guards in the NBA, wearing red.

You probably have figured out by now that it turned out differently than in 2009.

Last season, Dwyane Wade's Heat outmanned the Knicks before a crowd that came in part to dream of having a playmaker like that in a Knicks uniform.

This time Derrick Rose's Bulls faded down the stretch, going scoreless for more than eight minutes in the fourth quarter, and the Knicks won, 103-95, further distancing themselves from that three-loss hiccup a week or so back.

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Even better, late in the game, it was the Knicks' Raymond Felton who made the big plays, not Rose. Felton finished with 20 points, 12 assists and five steals.

"He was phenomenal,'' Landry Fields said of Felton, whose six-game streak with at least 10 assists is the Knicks' longest since Mark Jackson did it in 1989.

The net effect was a quality win against the team with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, now 18-10. (Amar'e Stoudemire, who had 20 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots, called the Bulls "a team to beat right now.'') The Knicks are 18-12 and feeling better about themselves every day.

Coach Mike D'Antoni said winning two in a row against the Thunder and Bulls presumably calmed any fears that the Knicks' previous eight-game winning streak was a fluke.

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"You have to beat these teams, at home especially,'' he said.

D'Antoni's interest in defense always has been suspect, but yesterday's victory was built on it. The Knicks blocked 10 shots, with three different players stuffing Rose.

"Our help defense has been tremendous,'' Felton said. "Amar'e getting six blocks was big, because he's helping weak side. It makes me and Toney's [Douglas] job much easier pressuring the ball, because we know we have guys behind us that will clean it up for us when we make mistakes.''

After tying the score at 87 with 10:10 left, the Bulls did not score again until 1:52 remained, a stretch in which the Knicks scored 10 points in a row to take control.

Among the key moments was a sequence in which Wilson Chandler (15 points, 10 rebounds) blocked one shot by Rose and harassed him into a miss of another on a fast break.

Rose finished with 25 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, but the Knicks made his life difficult. He had seven turnovers and shot 12-for-28 from the field.

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The Knicks hit 53.2 percent of their shots from the field and were 12-for-22 from three-point range. The only thing that kept the game close most of the day was the Bulls' offensive rebounding. They totaled 17, six by Carlos Boozer (26 points, 19 rebounds), and scored 28 second-chance points.

No matter. Unlike last year, when Wade had 30 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the Heat's 93-87 victory, these Knicks have enough answers for even elite opponents.

Next up: Another shot at Wade and Miami, which blew them out at the Garden in the teams' first meeting Dec. 17.

For now, it was enough to give an enthusiastic capacity crowd a nice holiday gift.

"The fans are totally incredible,'' Stoudemire said. "They're out of control, radical and loud, which is great for us, intimidating for the other team.

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"I think teams now understand the Garden is back to where it was, and it's going to be that way for a while.''

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