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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Raymond Felton proving himself during season of redemption

Raymond Felton puts up a shot against the

Raymond Felton puts up a shot against the Chicago Bulls' Kirk Hinrich during a game at the United Center. (Dec. 8, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty

CHICAGO -- Raymond Felton has proven his value to the Knicks and proven his toughness during this road trip.

Playing with a bone bruise and contusion in the area of his left thumb, Felton totaled 44 points, 16 assists and three turnovers in the first two games of the trip. Even after getting hit hard on it in the third quarter of the Knicks' victory in Miami on Thursday night, when Carmelo Anthony was unavailable because of his own left finger issue, Felton played through the pain.

"I wasn't going to leave that game," Felton said. "It hurt. Got smacked on it a couple of more times after that. It's part of the game. If I'm out there, I got to play."

This is the kind of toughness and leadership the Knicks need at point guard, and they have three good ones in Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni.

Jeremy Lin was a great story last season. He lifted the Knicks when they needed it. But he might not have been able to do what this trio, led by Felton, has done this season.

This is a veteran team that needs a no-nonsense point guard who commands respect and can carry them at times. Waiting for Lin to develop would have been risky, especially with this roster and the win-now mentality the Knicks display every night.

"Raymond has been playing unbelievable," Tyson Chandler said. "He's running the show, carrying the ship, keeping the turnovers down."

This season has been about redemption for Felton, who repeatedly has said he has a chip on his shoulder this year.

You can't excuse his admission that he wasn't in shape last season with the Trail Blazers. As a professional, his job is to be physically ready to play. But a player can always rebound and change perceptions.

Winning is all that matters. Felton and the Knicks are winning right now, and he's crediting his teammates.

"All these guys have been great to me, for me," Felton said. "Just really keeping my confidence up and staying in my head, telling me, 'Let's go. You're the engine that makes us go. You got to be aggressive. You've got to get at it.'

"For those guys to have that confidence in me, it feels a whole lot better when you're out there playing. I've got to give a lot of that to my teammates -- and I still got that chip on my shoulder."

More praise for Carmelo

The way Carmelo Anthony suffered his left middle finger laceration is another example of how differently he's playing this season.

Anthony dived into the Knicks' bench to try to save a loose ball Wednesday in Charlotte. He didn't know it was going to be a 24-second violation on the Bobcats. It was the second time this season that he has made a Charles Oakley-like dive out of bounds.

"My teammates see me at least attempt and try. Hopefully, that says something," Anthony said. "I wasn't expecting to get hurt, but for those guys to see me save a loose ball, that goes a long way."

Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap -- a former assistant coach for the Nuggets, who will visit the Garden tonight -- sees a change in Anthony.

"His sense of urgency is greater," said Dunlap, a former St. John's assistant. "He's at that period in his life where he's much more serious. He was always professional, but there's a seriousness to his professionalism now."



Mike D'Antoni probably thought he was done with drama in 2012 when his Knicks' tenure ended in March. Then he took the Lakers' job.

The Lakers (9-11) have lost three of four, and are just 2-6 on the road. Steve Nash is hurt. Pau Gasol is hurt, is the subject of trade rumors (again) and wasn't finishing games when he was healthy. Dwight Howard's situation is messy, too.

Howard's awful foul shooting -- 47.7 percent -- has led opponents to intentionally foul him in the fourth quarter.

Howard says his foul shooting isn't costing the Lakers games. It's not helping them, either. D'Antoni should consider sitting him in the fourth quarter if he can't improve his shooting.

But it's a slippery slope. The Lakers want to retain Howard, a free agent in July. He already threw Stan Van Gundy under the bus in Orlando. D'Antoni doesn't want to butt heads with another unhappy star; coaches don't win that battle.

All of this adds to the drama of D'Antoni returning to the Garden on Thursday with the increasingly dysfunctional Lakers.


Five-star company

Kobe Bryant became the fifth member of the exclusive 30,000-point club Wednesday, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. Bryant has done it all with the Lakers, but he almost started his career as a Net.

The Nets planned to take Bryant with the No. 8 pick in 1996, but the club and then-coach and executive John Calipari were scared off when Bryant's family and his former agent, Arn Tellem, told them he wouldn't come to New Jersey.

The Lakers already had worked out a deal with Charlotte for the No. 13 pick and acquired Bryant, a future Hall of Famer who has won five rings. The Nets took Kerry Kittles.


Mike and Mike

After J.R. Smith buried his first buzzer-beating game-winner Wednesday, a pair of Mikes congratulated him -- his coach and big supporter, Mike Woodson, and his idol, Bobcats owner Michael Jordan.

Smith said Woodson was "the first one to come in the locker room and hug me. It means a lot. Coach Woodson has been unbelievable for me."

It was surprising to see Jordan walk into the Knicks' locker room after his team lost. This is the same Jordan who hated the Knicks, loved beating them with the Bulls. Think about how many times he made the game- or series-clinching shot or play against them.

"He said something, but I can't really repeat it," Smith said. "It's an unbelievable feeling watching your idol come in and unfortunately hitting the game-winning shot against his team. Him respecting what I did is great."

Jordan is good friends with Knicks assistant Darrell Walker.

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