New York Knicks center Josh Harrellson signals his teammates after...

New York Knicks center Josh Harrellson signals his teammates after hitting a three-point basket against the Sacramento Kings during the second half. (Dec. 31, 2011) Credit: AP

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- And you probably thought the loss of Amar'e Stoudemire was awful news for the Knicks, whose own coach had called them "awful" in the previous game. What happened was that Stoudemire's absence made everyone else more of a presence.

Josh Harrellson, his untried replacement, scored 14 mostly unexpected points and pulled down 12 rebounds, setting the tempo for a balanced, prolific effort from a team that had immense trouble scoring on the first two stops on the West Coast. The result was a 114-92 win over the Kings Saturday night at Power Balance Pavilion.

Harrellson started partly because Mike D'Antoni said, "He seems to have a good feel for the game" and partly because there was really no one else to put in there. "It's a little sight-unseen," D'Antoni said before the game.

What the night yielded was quite a sight. Carmelo Anthony had 23 points, Tyson Chandler 22 (18 in the second half), Landry Fields 21, Toney Douglas 17 (plus eight assists) and Bill Walker 11. Nothing awful about that.

Anthony said of Harrellson, "He stepped up big tonight. We talked about that this morning, guys stepping up in place of Amar'e. Josh did that tonight. He did that big-time.''

Said Harrellson, "Those are big shoes to fill. He's one of the greatest in the game. I looked up to him growing up, and just being able to come in and fill his shoes, that's a big honor for me, and I hope I did well.''

The phrase that D'Antoni used about Stoudemire's ankle was that it "blew up" on the flight from Los Angeles to Sacramento Friday afternoon. So it wasn't just a matter of weighing the demands of a tough schedule and deciding to keep the star out to protect him. "If he was up to playing," D'Antoni said before the game, "he'd play."

Stoudemire said the ankle, which was injured late in the Knicks' loss to the Lakers Thursday night, felt much better Saturday than it had Friday. He wasn't predicting anything about his status for the game against the Raptors at the Garden Monday night. After all, he had a cross-country flight ahead of him and about six hours for the ankle to "blow up" again.

"This is nothing right here. This is a typical ankle sprain," he said. "We just want to take precautionary measures."

What no one could have predicted was the way the Knicks would start the game without him -- especially the way his replacement, second-round draft pick Harrellson, played. The rookie had appeared tentative in his limited appearances in the previous three games, but he looked as if he belonged as the Knicks built a 22-point lead in the second quarter en route to a 56-42 halftime lead.

It wasn't enough to make you think of Lou Gehrig taking Wally Pipp's place, but it did give a person reason to have some confidence in Harrellson. "Josh is a solid player. He's been preparing himself all through training camp and so far during the season," Stoudemire said. "So when opportunity knocks, you just have to be ready."

Harrellson shot 3-for-6 from three-point range in the half, setting a solid tone for the Knicks. They took 17 three-pointers and made eight in the half, spreading the Kings' tenuous defense.

That's important for the Knicks. Chandler said two nights earlier that they are not used to feeding a center. He added, "I'm really trying to get in rhythm with my guards, trying to get my guards used to throwing the ball up to the basket. If we can get that going, we can make things easier for Amar'e and Melo. If we can ever get them one-on-one because we play basketball like we did tonight, it's a nightmare for teams.''

Bottom line: Everyone picked up the slack for the star whose ankle had "blown up." They performed more like a team on the verge of winning in a blowout.

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