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Knicks' Chandler has lifted his game

New York Knicks' Wilson Chandler (21) goes to

New York Knicks' Wilson Chandler (21) goes to the basket past Chicago Bulls' John Salmons (15), left, and Kirk Hinrich (12). (December 22, 2009) Photo Credit: MCT/Jason DeCrow

Wilson Chandler isn't a chest-bumper, back-slapper or fist-shaker. He doesn't feel the need to emote every time he makes a dunk. He often doesn't even feel the need to smile.

But just because his face doesn't telegraph his emotions doesn't mean Chandler doesn't have them. A brief conversation Friday after practice was all it took to see that the Knicks' starting shooting guard is thrilled with the way he has been playing lately.

"I'm definitely having a lot of fun out there,'' said the 6-8 Chandler, who scored a season-high 27 points Thursday night in the Knicks' 97-93 win over visiting Charlotte. "When you win in New York in the Garden and you're playing well, it's definitely a great feeling.''

Chandler thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of making the clinching free throws in front of a sellout crowd at the Garden. The game marked the fourth time in five games that Chandler has scored at least 23 points.

"He's been playing really well,'' coach Mike D'Antoni said of Chandler, 22, whom he moved into the starting two-guard spot at the beginning of December. "It's everything. His defense, his shot selection. He's making plays for other guys. I think he's just getting better.''

Chandler, in his third NBA season, certainly is playing a lot better than he did at the beginning of the season, when he was dealing with a cranky left ankle and the Knicks lost nine of their first 10 games.

Chandler, who had arthroscopic ankle surgery during the summer, averaged only 12.0 points and shot 38.9 percent in his first 18 games. In his last 17 games, he has averaged 18.0 points and shot 52.4 percent.

Chandler wasn't able to practice during the summer as he rehabbed from the ankle surgery, and he said it still was bothering him a lot at the beginning of the season.

"It was definitely a hard time for me,'' Chandler said. "When you know you can do things and you're just not doing them, it's tough. I just thank coach D'Antoni for sticking with me, because sometimes when you're playing bad, you can get lost in the rotation.''

D'Antoni had a lot of incentive to stick with Chandler. It's the young players such as Chandler and Danilo Gallinari who are the future of the team, the ones whose development this season could be a part of the package that lures a big-name free agent to sign with the Knicks this summer.

D'Antoni believes that Chandler has become a more complete player during the past month. "A lot of it is his ability to make somebody else better,'' D'Antoni said. "He's become a very good teammate offensively and defensively. He's not overplaying his hand. He's playing what's given to him. That's impressive. It's hard to teach.''

Notes & quotes: Al Harrington (sore left calf) did not practice. He is listed as questionable for Saturday night's game at Houston.

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