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Knicks fans can cheer masterpiece, even by an opponent

Kobe Bryant now passes the baton to LeBron James, who will take the Garden stage tonight against the Knicks as this so-called "Dream Week" continues with King James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Before he left the Garden on Monday, a little more than an hour after his record-setting 61-point performance, Bryant figured he probably left the bar a bit high for even LeBron to top.

"He's more the passing type," Bryant said. "He might come in here and have a quadruple-double, though. He might have 33 [points], 15 [rebounds], 12 [assists] and 10 steals, or something."

James scored 50 points at the Garden on March 5, 2008, in a 119-105 win over the Knicks. That night, King James also had 10 assists and eight rebounds, which fell just two boards shy of the heralded triple-double.

And, yes, the Garden faithful showered him with the same cheers and chants of "MVP" that poured over Kobe on Monday night and had so many New Yorkers waking up Tuesday morning with guilt feelings. One former NBA villain couldn't believe his ears as he watched Bryant erase a record once owned by beloved Knick Bernard King.

"I was watching the game last night, and I was texting Spike [Lee] as the game was going on and saying how disappointed I was in the fans chanting 'MVP!' to Kobe," Reggie Miller said yesterday on a TNT conference call. "How the mighty have fallen! In times past, I never got cheered, I'm sure [Michael] Jordan never got cheered, and now they are chanting 'MVP' for Kobe. [ Spike Lee] kept texting back saying, 'Times have changed, the climate has changed.'"

Former Knicks broadcaster Marv Albert, who called King's 60-point game on Christmas Day in 1984 and Jordan's 55-point effort in March 1995, said he understands why there is a change in the attitude of the Garden fans toward opponents.

"At the Garden these days, it's a combination of appreciation, and even though the Knicks are better this season, there is frustration that they are under .500 and that they have not been good in quite some time," Albert said. "The climate is so different these days, the guys like Kobe and LeBron and Dwyane Wade, these guys are so popular and they get so much exposure, all three come across so well in commercials, interviews and they are very likable.

"In most arenas, it has become similar to applauding for a popular entertainer, these guys are like rock stars. A few years back, when Reggie Miller was lighting it up against the Knicks at the Garden, perhaps even he would have been well-received ... Then again, maybe not."

The goal, of course, is to get that kind of star-quality player in a Knicks uniform to keep the crowd on the side of the home team. That's what Donnie Walsh's 2010 game plan is all about, which is what makes LeBron's appearances at the Garden between now and then - tonight will be the season's last, barring a playoff matchup - so much more significant. The recruiting process has already begun.

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