NEW ORLEANS - The only toast to be made after the Knicks finished off Chris Paul's Hornets, 100-92, Friday night at New Orleans Arena was to a resurgence that now includes a win over a team with a winning record.
"We knew this was a game where we could measure ourselves and see how good we can be," said Amar'e Stoudemire, who had 34 points and 10 rebounds. "And we could have played better."
It's hard to imagine Stoudemire could play any better than he has in the last three games, given that he's scored at least 34 in each. Against the Hornets, he got his ninth double-double and fourth 30-10 performance of the season. Raymond Felton added 17 points and 13 assists to lead the Knicks (11-9) to their third straight win and eighth in their last nine. It also was the first time the Knicks have beaten a winning team in this stretch and only the second win over a plus-.500 team this season.
Felton won the battle against Paul (17 points, 10 assists) but shot down any notion that he had extra motivation against the Hornets' point guard, who suggested in a toast at Carmelo Anthony's wedding in July that he and Anthony join Stoudemire in New York to form their own Big Three.
"You can kill that question; I was not thinking about no head-to-head," Felton said. "That's a good friend of mine. It was not a head-to-head thing."
Trevor Ariza had 21 points to lead the Hornets (13-6). They played without their leading scorer, David West (18.8 points per game), who missed the game with a stomach ailment.
The Knicks, meanwhile, played for a third straight game and sixth overall without Ronny Turiaf (sprained left knee).
Shawne Williams made a strong case for a regular spot in Mike D'Antoni's rotation, scoring 13 points in 21 minutes in only his third appearance of the season. Williams shot 3-for-4 from three-point range as the Knicks hit 13-for-30 from downtown to complement Stoudemire's interior dominance (15-for-22 shooting).
"We just needed what he gives us, shooting," D'Antoni said of Williams. "I knew he was going to be open because of Amar'e and the pick-and-roll and we needed somebody who could knock them down."
The win gave the Knicks their sixth straight road victory, which hadn't been accomplished since Pat Riley's Knicks in 1994-95. Coincidentally, Hornets coach Monty Williams was a rookie on that team. The Knicks are 8-4 on the road.
In Turiaf's absence, Stoudemire fared well at center, but rookie Timofey Mozgov continues to struggle in the backup role.
Mozgov has had trouble catching passes and finishing at the rim, where during the preseason and World Championships, his most notable traits were his hands and powerful dunking ability. But Mozgov looked bad on three straight possessions between the first and second quarters, as Felton found him on the pick-and-roll but he failed to finish. On meek layup attempts that lacked any explosion or conviction, Mozgov was blocked three times by Hornets backup center DJ Mbenga.
D'Antoni, however, is intent on playing the 7-1 Russian through his problems rather than employing the services of veteran Eddy Curry, who has been inactive for every game this season. D'Antoni said he doesn't think Curry, who has been practicing for the last four weeks after missing the preseason with a hamstring strain, is ready to play.
"I just don't think he's ready yet to go up and down continuously," D'Antoni said. "He has to go up and down continuously. He shows spurts of looking good in practice . . . We can't experiment right now."