Carmelo Anthony staked the New York Knicks to a big first-half lead over the reeling Los Angeles Lakers and his teammates held on for a 116-107 win after he was forced to exit with an ankle injury.
The Knicks took a lead of as much as 26 points in the first half of Thursday night's game at Madison Square Garden thanks in large part to their star forward, who finished with 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 22 points in the first quarter.
But he was done for the night after falling to the ground awkwardly following a mid-air collision with Lakers big man Dwight Howard early in the third quarter.
Although Knicks fans feared the worst, Anthony reportedly suffered only a left-ankle sprain and is listed as day-to-day.
With their opponent's best player in the locker room, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers gradually chipped away at the deficit and managed to reduce it to single digits with just over four minutes to play in regulation.
But two key assists in succession by Knicks point guard Raymond Felton, who found center Tyson Chandler for an alley-oop dunk and then reserve swingman J.R. Smith for a wide-open 3-pointer, all but sealed the victory.
Felton also scored 19 points for the Knicks, who won for the eighth time in their past nine games to run their record to an Eastern Conference-best 17-5, while center Chandler and Smith added 18 points apiece.
Knicks sharp-shooter Steve Novak was on fire from 3-point range, hitting 4-of-5 from behind the arc for 12 points.
The Lakers got 31 points from Bryant but showed yet again that high-scoring efforts from their star forward are not a formula for success. Including Thursday night's loss, the team is 1-11 this season when Bryant scores 30 or more points.
Metta World Peace added 23 points and Howard contributed 20 points and seven rebounds for the Lakers, who dropped to 9-14 for the season.
The Lakers are struggling in the absence of two injured starters - power forward Pau Gasol and point guard Steve Nash - and are just 4-9 with coach Mike D'Antoni on the sidelines and 1-6 in December.
D'Antoni was hired to replace Mike Brown, who was abruptly dismissed after the star-studded team got off to a disappointing 1-4 start. The team briefly got on track under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, going 4-1 to run its record to .500, but has struggled again since D'Antoni took the reins.
High expectations surround the Lakers this season after the offseason acquisitions of Howard, a three-time defensive player of the year, and Nash, a two-time league MVP who is currently out of action while recovering from a non-displaced leg fracture.
In other NBA action Thursday night, the Atlanta Hawks continued their strong start to the season by defeating the Charlotte Bobcats 113-90 at home and are now tied with the defending champion Miami Heat for second place in the Eastern Conference.
The Portland Trail Blazers, meanwhile, got another strong effort from rookie point guard Damian Lillard in a 98-90 win at home over the San Antonio Spurs. EFE