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Die by the three, live by the three

  Without Amar'e Stoudemire, the Knicks had to look somewhere for offense. They found it beyond the three-point arc.

What an ideal night for the three-ball to start hitting the target and what an ideal night to have the Nets, who were running around on defense all night long, as an opponent on a night that was without question a must-win game for these Knicks.

They needed every one of those 16 treys, including the two corner daggers tossed by Landry Fields, who apparently leads the NBA in three-point percentage in the fourth quarter. He's now 20-for-31 on the season, which is a sizzling 64.5 percent.

But there were precarious moments along the way, such as the 0-for-9 drought through the third quarter, which was met with little regard by the Knicks gunslingers, who kept on firing away until Toney Douglas stopped the slump with a trey to finish the third at 1-for-10. Remember that loss in Minnesota on Nov. 12? The Knicks made 11 of 29 that night and blew a 21-point second half lead mainly because they kept on firing away and kept on missing. Well, actually what happened is they kept on missing and failed to get many of the resultant rebounds.

That night they stopped going in. Saturday against the Nets, after that alarming third quarter drought, the threes started falling again.

"They lived and died with it," Nets coach Avery Johnson said of the Knicks' three-point stance. "And they lived."

The Knicks hit 16 of 34 a night after they were a mere 5 for 20 against the Lakers and 6 for 26 the game before that against the Clippers. Overall, the Knicks have won only three games this season that included them shooting less than 30 percent from three-point range: Jan. 4 vs Spurs, Nov. 30 vs. Nets and the season opener, Oct. 27, at Toronto.

What should not be overlooked is that they also lived this time around because Mike D'Antoni kept 7-1 Timofey Mozgov on the floor down the stretch, despite five fouls. Mozgov played Brook Lopez tough for most of the game, though he did get soft once he picked up his fifth foul. Still, his length and strength were contributing factors and he might have made one of the biggest baskets of the game when he caught Wilson Chandler's airball at the rim, powered up and finished for a three-point play with 2:27 left to make it a 96-90 lead.

You might not get to that ball if Amar'e Stoudemire is on the floor in the usual small-ball attack that D'Antoni employs late in games.

Mozgov, who finished with 6 points, 4 rebounds and a blocked shot, is still learning and clearly still has a lot to learn, especially on the defensive end, but his size is so critical and needs to be on the floor. D'Antoni admitted after the loss to the Clippers that he probably made a mistake by not going back to Mozgov late in that game after small-ball helped the Knicks get back in it. That he stayed with him against Lopez and the Nets (not that he really had much of a choice with Stoudemire out) is a promising sign that, perhaps, D'Antoni is starting to trust Mozgov and starting to get comfortable with the idea of playing big.

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* - Toney Douglas provided a much-needed spark of offense off the bench, with 19 points out of 44 scored by the Knicks bench. He was 8-for-13 from the field and did an excellent job getting dribble penetration and getting to the rim. But while we've always known Douglas can put up points and, of course, defend and push tempo, it's still crystal clear he's not a point guard, especially not one who can run the offense and get others involved. In 20:59, Douglas did not record a single assist.

* - Very impressive performance by Wilson Chandler (21 points) and one that came when the Knicks needed it most. Chandler was definitely wallowing in self-pity over the trade rumors and, yes, the sore calf muscle was also an issue here. But against the Nets, for the first time in quite a while, Chandler looked confident and, perhaps more importantly, determined with the ball, especially late in the game. On top of his offense, what shows you that Chandler was truly engaged was his eight rebounds and the career-best tying five blocked shots.

* - Amar'e Stoudemire says he expects the sprained big toe to have healed enough that he could play in Wednesday's game against the Hawks, which is the last game before the all-star break. In Stoudemire's words, if he's ready for the Hawks, "then all-star game will be a go." If not, "I won't be able to play as much."

Stoudemire, the first Knick since Patrick Ewing in 1997 to earn an all-star starting position by virtue of a fan vote, can't completely blow off all-star weekend in L.A. because it's a showcase the game's top talent loves to experience. Plus, it's L.A.

Personally, I'd wrap Stoudemire in bubble wrap and do whatever possible to make sure he gets the proper rest he needs so after the all-star break he's healthy enough to finish off this playoff chase.

New York Sports