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Garden again becomes stage for great player

At this point, New York at least has LeBron's feet. For the second time this season, LeBron James wore a signature sneaker to mark his Garden appearance. In December it was a candy apple red shoe and last night it was a Checkered Cab motif with yellow trim.

Considering the King's obvious shoe fetish, they should have called it "Chex in The City." Carrie Bradshaw, who would appreciate such taste, is sometimes seen courtside here.

As for Dream Week, right now the Garden faithful can only dream of watching players of this caliber on a nightly basis.

James followed Kobe Bryant's 61-point performance with not only a 52-point effort but also a triple-double in a 107-102 win over the Knicks. (Kobe said there might be a quadruple-double for James, so perhaps therein lies a moral victory for the Knicks).

These are feats of greatness anywhere, but the great ones know it matter more to have such signature moments in New York, on the Garden floor, a place both Bryant and James spoke of with awe and reverence.

"I can't say that this is the same as any other road game, because it's not; this is the mecca of basketball," James said. "A lot of things have happened in this building. There is great history and the fans have seen a lot. This is, like Kobe said, the last building that's still alive.

"I honestly feel like you go on stage playing basketball rather than on a court," he added. "Then you think about the history of the game . . . There's no way this could be just another building."

While the Knicks, who are owned by Cablevision, which owns Newsday, remain star-less in the midst of this rebuilding - only 511 days until the 2010 free agency period begins! - there will be nights like Monday when they temporarily morph into the Washington Generals. At least this season, unlike the recent past, they put up more of a fight against the league's elite.

And at least last night they were able to put up enough of an effort to keep the locals on their side while yet another visiting star took center stage. On Monday night, the Knicks were fading against the Lakers as Bryant closed in on Bernard King's record. The crowd - which certainly was loaded with displaced L.A. fans who turn out for the Lakers' singular New York appearance of the season - turned from rooting for the outcome to rooting for the record. At $250 a pop, you want to leave with something worth talking about.

"When they see a great performance," LeBron said, "they definitely show their appreciation."

Though LeBron, like Kobe, received the usual warm welcome reserved exclusively for those with status, the Garden faithful roared louder for mercurial journeyman Al Harrington (39 points), whose hot shooting kept the Knicks in the game to the final minute. It took until late in the fourth, when the cream rises to the top of the key and finds Zydrunas Ilgauskas for an open basket to make it 104-100 with 52.6 seconds left, to keep the Knicks at an arm's length.

And it rises to knowingly snare that key last rebound before the buzzer just to get that coveted third double-figure statistic, which puts a little something extra on the 52-point total.

So, really, can you blame a star-hungry New York crowd for appreciating the all-around dominance of a LeBron James or that explosive performance by Kobe Bryant?

"In New York, and a lot of places, they want to see the best in the world and they saw one of the top two to three best players in the world and they appreciated his skill," Mike D'Antoni said of Kobe's night. "My mouth was open too with some of the stuff he was doing."

That, of course, is why D'Antoni and Donnie Walsh are here. And why sticking to the 2010 plan - when the Knicks can make a free agent play for LeBron and others - is so critical.

"Now our job is to make the Knicks so good that they'll be cheering us and they won't care who comes in here because we're the best people on the floor," D'Antoni said. "But we're not there yet."

At least the floor will be turned back over to the Knicks to end Dream Week tomorrow night against the Celtics. Nobody in New York can ever root for Boston.

New York Sports