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Finishing it right: Knicks aim for 3-1 trip

  LOS ANGELES -- The mood in the visitors locker room at Oracle Arena on Friday night was straight up giddy. There were quick smiles and a bouncy mood, even when ESPN showed the highlight of Monta Ellis' jaw-dropping dunk down the lane over Ronny Turiaf.

"Not bad, man, you made No. 2!" Amar'e Stoudemire said, teasing his frontcourt mate about his placement in the Top 10 Plays of the Night.

The unflappable Turiaf shrugged and said, "I'll take it. Hey, it happens."

He'll take it because despite his unfortunate role in that one highlight, Turiaf (7 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 blocks) had much more to do with what mattered most: a win. (It's clearly time for a nickname and none of that cliche "Fear the Beard" stuff. Get to work, Fixers).

The Kings and Warriors (without David Lee) were exactly what the Knicks needed and next up is a very dangerous game against a team with the worst record in the NBA: the 1-12 Clippers.
The get-away game on a road trip is always the scariest one for a head coach, mainly because the players are thinking about going home more than they are the opponent. And right now it's easy to overlook the Clippers.

A loss would put the trip at 2-2, which almost anyone would have signed for after the loss in Denver. But obviously to get 3 out of 4, regardless of the strength of schedule, would make it a very successful trip and send the Knicks home at 6-8.
"That's our goal, our goal is to try to be 3-1 on this trip," Raymond Felton said after the best game of his career, an unconscious 35-point, 11-assist performance. "So this is going to be big for us."

Stoudemire agreed. "We've got the chance to make this a very special trip," he said. "We're starting to get our swagger and our identity and in the process, we're getting a few wins. So if we can go into LA and get this win, it'll be a great trip for us going back to New York."

It would certainly change the mood at the Garden for Tuesday's game against the Bobcats. When the team last left New York, they were booed off their home court, playing with none of that swagger Stoudemire always refers to and Mike D'Antoni was under heavy fire.

"This league is too hard to get so far up and so far down and [predicting] disaster," D'Antoni said. "Everybody gets crazy. New York is the best at getting our guys anxious. We've just got to calm them down and let them play.

"It's a long season," D'Antoni continued. "We've got young guys out there, we've got to take care of them and make sure they improve."

* * *
* - Was that the Triangle Offense we saw the Knicks run in some half-court sets that got Felton free for so many looks? Felton acknowledged a "pinch post" play -- one element of the Triangle Offense -- that worked very well with he and Stoudemire and resulted in a few cuts for layups for Felton.

"A lot of the times you saw it tonight I was throwing the ball, cutting off and getting layups," Felton said. "If you come off that quick, it's kind of tough to guard that. When I go off [the big man], my man is behind me. It's a layup."

[I'll be the first to admit I'm not smart enough to know if D'Antoni actually did reach into the Big Chief Triangle system and I highly doubt that's what he did. But the play did look curiously familiar and obviously had great results.]

Felton talked excitedly as if he had a few epiphanies when it comes to the offense and what role he can play in it. D'Antoni seems to have moved away from Felton the responsibility of running the offense and instead is looking to utilize his ability to be a scorer. The ball goes more to the wings now, where smart passers such as Danilo Gallinari and Ronny Turiaf are the playmakers.

"This system's fun," Felton said. "Once you learn it and get comfortable with one another, it's fun."

Sure is when you're scoring 35 points on 13 of 17 from the field and it seems like everything, including a falling-down shot off the glass, is going in. It also helped that Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry didn't offer much in resistance on defense, but Felton played a very strong game and attacked.

So perhaps the pick-and-roll won't be the featured event this season. We'll see if the "pinch post" moves to No. 1 on the play list.

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