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Gallinari steps up with 17 points in Knicks' win

Andale, young Danilo Gallinari?

No, for one night it was finally, andiamo!

On Latin Night at the Garden, with "Nueva York" emblazoned across their chests, the Knicks celebrated their Italian roots, as Gallinari had a breakthrough performance with a career-high 17 points in 23 minutes in a 109-105 win last night over the Atlanta Hawks.

"He played great," Mike D'Antoni said of his rookie.

Gallinari was a little more subdued. "We played good," he said. "I did my part. Everybody did their part. We have to continue this way because we are looking at the playoffs."

The Knicks (25-35), who snapped a three-game losing streak, are two games behind the Bucks and Bulls for the final playoff spot in the East. But they are also battling three other teams between them and that last berth.

With Nate Robinson out with a left ankle sprain, there was extra shots available in the offense and Gallinari willingly took 11 shots and made six of them. Larry Hughes, who seems to have moved into the starting shooting guard spot for good, also picked up the slack with 18 field-goal attempts. He made 9 of them and led the Knicks with 23 points.

"Nate's a very good basketball player, so it's my job and the team's job to figure out how to incorporate all of this," D'Antoni said. "And there's no reason why we can't."

Al Harrington had 20 points and 10 rebounds and David Lee had 13 points and 14 rebounds.

Al Horford had 20 points and 13 rebounds and Joe Johnson had 18 points for the Hawks (34-27), who trailed by 15 points after a Hughes three-pointer with 3:22 left and managed to close to within four after a three-pointer by Flip Murray with 10.9 seconds left. The Hawks then forced a turnover by Chris Duhon in the backcourt, but Johnson, another of the possible 2010 free agency targets but who has been a disappointment in his two Garden appearances this season, missed on a three in the closing seconds.

Aside from Robinson, the Knicks were also without Jared Jeffries, who hurt his left knee in Monday's practice and was able to fight through it on Tuesday, but then the knee swelled up. The situation almost forced D'Antoni to give Gallinari significant minutes.

And Gallinari, who continues to slowly - and consistently - prove his value as a No. 8 overall choice in last June's draft, took advantage of the extra time and touches. He hit 4 of 5 from three-point range, including a nifty step-back three over Zaza Pachulia with 1:55 left in the third quarter to give the Knicks a 79-73 lead.

"It's a lot about confidence," Gallinari said of his developing game. "I don't think I could do this two months ago."

The Knicks opened the fourth with a nine-point lead and it grew to 11 after another trey by Gallinari, who conjures the same buzz from the Garden faithful as the ebullient Robinson. The Knicks led by as many as 16 points in the fourth and held off a late rally by the Hawks with timely shooting by Hughes and Harrington.

D'Antoni sent Hughes in for Gallinari with 4:56 left and the crowd offered a loud applause for his performance. And Gallinari teased that he has yet to be able to show his full repertoire because of his nagging back issue. "You will see," he said. "I'm not telling you right now."

Notes & quotes: With Cheikh Samb now in the fold, the Knicks will next sign guard/forward Demetris Nichols to a 10-day contract tomorrow . . . Chris Wilcox is promoting a bone marrow donor drive in Manhattan on Saturday to hopefully find a perfect match for a 6-year-old girl named Jasmina Anema, who on Jan. 20 was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia.

Saturday

Hornets

at Knicks

7:30 p.m.

TV: Ch. 11

Radio: WEPN (1050)

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