CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - In the span of just a few days, the Charlotte Bobcats have somehow climbed back into playoff contention while the New York Knicks are facing questions about a potential monumental collapse.
And Carmelo Anthony is as dumbfounded as anybody.
The suddenly surging Bobcats became the latest team to run past the struggling Knicks on Saturday night. Boris Diaw scored 20 points and Stephen Jackson added 19 despite a sore hamstring and another technical foul in 114-106 victory that moved Charlotte within a game of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
``We needed this so bad,' said coach Paul Silas, whose team stunned Boston a night earlier.
Anthony had 36 points and led a comeback from a 20-point third-quarter deficit to make it a bit interesting late. But he got little help from a struggling Amare Stoudemire and couldn't prevent New York's sixth straight loss.
Not even lineups changes helped the Knicks, who are 7-12 since acquiring Anthony and Chauncey Billups in a deal that was supposed to shoot them up the East standings. Instead, the Knicks' lead over ninth-place Charlotte is down to 4 1/2 games.
``For the most part, these are teams we should be beating,' Anthony said. ``We talk about that among each other - that some of these teams shouldn't even be on the court with us. But they're winning games and it's just something we have to figure out.'
The Bobcats built a 20-point third-quarter lead and withstood an Anthony-fueled rally that got New York within 110-106 with 1:34 left. The Knicks didn't score again.
``We've got a lot of talent, but as you know, talent isn't everything,' said Billups, who had 14 points and 10 assists, but missed 10 of 16 shots including a jumper late. ``Camaraderie and cohesiveness and being a good team beats talent every day of the week. When we get to a point where we get that, combined with the talent, we're going to be a very dangerous team.'
The Bobcats appeared finished after a 23-point home loss to Indiana on Wednesday left them three games behind the Pacers for the last postseason slot while also surrendering the tiebreaker.
Since then, Charlotte became the first East team to win in Boston and knocked off New York, while the Pacers have lost to lottery-bound Sacramento and Detroit in consecutive nights.
``This is the best part of the season,' Jackson said. ``This is what you play for.'
Jackson, hobbled by a strained left hamstring that's had him in and out of the lineup for the past month, had a key tip in and a layup late despite earlier picking up his 15th technical foul, one shy of an automatic one-game suspension.
``I know I can't get any more, but I think I went like eight games without getting one,' Jackson said. ``I think I can finish this season and hopefully postseason without getting another one, hopefully.'
Jackson shot 4 of 9 on 3-pointers and took advantage of New York's woeful defense.
Charlotte, the NBA's second-lowest scoring team coming in at 92.8 points a game, tallied a season-high 64 points in the first half to take a 13-point lead. Diaw's 3 early in the third made it 75-55.
The Bobcats shot 47 percent, held a 46-39 rebounding advantage and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds. Stoudemire grabbed six rebounds to go with 14 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
``I don't care how good your offense is, you've really got to score 120-something to beat a team like that,' Billups said. ``And that's just too much pressure on your offense. Our defense is what's going to make or break us, I believe.'
Coach Mike D'Antoni was more worried about offense before the game, saying his team lacks ``pizazz.' With center Ronny Turiaf (ankle) sidelined, Landry Fields was also sent to the bench for a smaller, quicker lineup.
Toney Douglas joined Billups in the backcourt and got the defensive assignment on Charlotte point guard D.J. Augustin. Shawne Williams also started and while the Knicks showed spark early on offense, they allowed the Bobcats to score almost at will.
Anthony, who hit 13 of 25 shots, was on the bench early in the fourth before hitting consecutive 3-pointers to fuel the Knicks' too-late spurt even as Charlotte played again without Tyrus Thomas (ribs).
``It was whoever wanted it most,' Silas said, ``and we obviously did.'
Notes: Bobcats assistant Charles Oakley missed his third straight game and Silas said he'll undergo a procedure next week for his back injury. Silas expects Oakley to miss another week. ... Ex-Bobcats F Derrick Brown, waived right after the trade deadline, declined to talk about his departure and had little to say about his limited role since being claimed by New York. ``That's how the NBA is,' Brown said. ... Silas wasn't surprised the Knicks are struggling after the Anthony deal. ``That's kind of normal,' he said. ``Any change is difficult. In time, it will be fine.'
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