NEW YORK (AP) — Last time they left Madison Square Garden, the New York Knicks were a team of bad moods and worse basketball, seemingly headed on the road to nowhere.
This time, they left with a chance to get back to .500 — unfamiliar territory for a team coming off nine straight losing seasons.
Toney Douglas scored 22 points, and the Knicks won their fourth straight game, beating the Charlotte Bobcats 110-107 on Tuesday night in the opener of a home-and-home series.
Amare Stoudemire added 17 while battling foul trouble for the Knicks, who won the final three games on their road trip and kept rolling right through most of this one. They blew nearly all of a 16-point lead before holding on for their longest winning streak since taking four straight last Dec. 4-11.
Raymond Felton made the clinching free throws against his former team as New York (7-8) put six players in double figures. The Knicks can get back to .500 with a victory at Charlotte on Wednesday.
“It’s great, it lets you know we’re getting our confidence, especially down the stretch. So we’ve just got to continue to keep that confidence high,” said Stoudemire, in good spirits after seeming despondent last time he spoke in front of his locker, when a loss to Houston on Nov. 14 was the fifth in a streak of six straight losses.
“A night like tonight, guys stepped up big in the fourth, which was big for us because I got in a little foul trouble out there, and they stepped up. So we’ve got to go to Charlotte and try to do it again.”
D.J. Augustin, Felton’s replacement, scored 24 points and Gerald Wallace had 20 for the Bobcats, who were coming off their best offensive performance of the season, shooting 57.5 percent in a 123-105 victory over Phoenix on Saturday. Stephen Jackson had 18 after a miserable start.
But it was Charlotte’s defense that let it down against the Knicks, who averaged 120 points on their 3-1 road trip and were on pace to hit that again before stalling early in the fourth quarter and letting the Bobcats nearly catch up.
“We just started playing harder,” Augustin said. “We’ve got to do that at the beginning of the game. If we played harder, it would have never gotten to that point. We should’ve fought harder.”
Felton finished with 16 points and nine assists. Danilo Gallinari scored 15 points and rookie Landry Fields had 14 — half during a spurt that gave the Knicks breathing room after Charlotte pulled within two.
“We have new guys, so every day, every practice, we get better, every game,” Douglas said. “We’re going to make mistakes, but it’s all about chemistry.”
The Knicks’ lead was 16 late in the third after a basket by Ronny Turiaf, whose energy on both ends since returning from a knee injury has been a catalyst in New York’s turnaround, and the Knicks were ahead 89-75 to start the fourth. But Charlotte had a 9-0 spurt to start the fourth, then pulled to 91-89 on a basket by Wallace with 8:40 to play.
Fields nailed a 3-pointer 14 seconds later, and followed Augustin’s jumper by making a gift layup after a careless Charlotte turnover in its backcourt. He then slammed down a follow dunk on the fast break to push the lead to 98-91 with 6:34 remaining.
Jackson, quiet most of the night — beyond complaining to the officials — after recording the first triple-double in Bobcats history on Saturday, finally got going with the Bobcats down nine and under 5 minutes to play. Two 3-pointers and a dunk cut it to 104-101 with 2 minutes left, and his basket got Charlotte within one with 18 seconds remaining.
But the Knicks made their free throws, with Felton knocking down the final pair with 2.1 seconds left. Jackson tried to get off a final shot, but the Bobcats fumbled the ball and got it to him too late.
“A lot of stuff didn’t go the way I wanted tonight, but I’m not going to touch on that,” Jackson said. “It was a tough play, a long shot. I didn’t get my feet into it. It is what it is, the life of Stephen Jackson.”
Felton helped the Bobcats make their first playoff appearance last season before leaving as a free agent to join the Knicks. Bobcats coach Larry Brown, who enjoys a love-hate relationship with his point guards, praised new starter Augustin, but sounded as if he wishes Michael Jordan could’ve found the money to keep Felton.
“He’s great. I think what he brought to our team is something you can’t replace,” Brown said. “He plays hard every day, plays hurt, practices hard, he’s a great teammate and I’m thrilled for him. I think it’s worked out good for everybody. D.J.’s gotten an opportunity and he’s played well.”
A victory Wednesday in the rematch will give the Knicks their longest winning streak since a six-game run in January 2006 — the lone highlight during Brown’s disastrous 23-59 season in charge.
NOTES: Brown, on Felton moving from Brown, notoriously tough on point guards, to quarterbacking Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo system: “He’s died and gone to Heaven, going from me to Mike.” … Augustin entered the game first in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (5.17). … Representatives of Sotheby’s were in the arena with James Naismith’s original rules of basketball, which are being put up for auction next month.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)