J.R. Smith is outshining Carmelo Anthony. Who saw that coming?
They still charged full price at Madison Square Garden, even though the only thing the Bobcats have to play for is finishing ahead of the Orlando Magic to avoid the league's worst record. And it was shaping up to be an ugly game early on.
New York led by 20 points after nine minutes, thanks in part to shooting 13-of-17 from the field, including 13 from Carmelo Anthony in that span.
Then J.R. Smith began scoring at will in the second quarter, eclipsing the 20-point mark before halftime for the third game in a row.
Smith finished with 37 points and Carmelo scored 32. Gerald Henderson led the Bobcats with 35 points of his own.
After being up by as many as 30 points, the Knicks had a 69-47 advantage at halftime. They shot 62.5 percent in the first half and a staggering 9-of-12 from three-point range.
Charlotte came out very active on defense in the third quarter and made a run to stave off the total blowout. It trimmed the deficit to 14 points in the third quarter as the Knicks shot bricks.
And those pesky Bobcats just would not go away. A Josh McRoberts layup made it 102-95 with two minutes to play, but Smith finally put in a finger roll to end the Knicks' shooting woes and nail down the narrower-than-necessary win.
Simply put, Charlotte has been awful.
It has showed signs of life recently by winning three of its last five, but it still give up the most points per 100 possessions in the league, and it scores the third-fewest points per 100 (via ESPN).
The Bobcats are in full-on rebuilding mode and will be for some time, at least until Michael Jordan returns to boost ticket sales.
The Knicks are chasing 50 wins and only need to win five of their last 11 to hit the mark, but eight of those contests are against playoff teams. The bigger fish is the Atlantic Division crown, and their lead over the Brooklyn Nets pushed to three games on Friday.
This was a solid win for the Knicks, who exhibited dominance and resilience in equal measures.
Pablo Prigioni, PG: C-
Prigioni was invisible in the first half, managing just one assist and three fouls in seven first-half minutes.
He was practically absent from this one, seeing just 10 minutes overall.
But even when he doesn't get the assist, the Argentine rookie is the engine to the Knicks' effective ball movement.
With the exception of the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night, New York's offense has been San Antonioesque in relentlessly working for the open shot.
Prigioni has been a key part of that. Perhaps this was just a night to rest the 35-year-old's legs.
Raymond Felton, SG: B+
Felton continued his strong play, scoring 10 in the first half, adding a pair of dimes and committing zero turnovers.
He stumbled slightly in the third quarter, but he rounded out the evening with 18 points and snagged three steals in the second half, and Charlotte fought its way back.
Felton is finally approaching the stellar form he exhibited to begin the season. It looks like his finger is fully healed, which has resulted in more controlled ball-handling and more efficient scoring.
His shooting has improved from 41.7 percent in February to 48.5 in March.
Iman Shumpert, SF: B-
Shumpert led New York with five first-half assists. He also drained both his field goals from long range and came up with a pair of steals.
He was very quiet in the second half, and that trend has typified his play. While his burst is back, his stamina still looks to be on the mend.
It's heartening to see Shumpert returning to peak form game by game. His athleticism and shooting touch are nearly back, along with his confidence. His minutes are still being managed, however, and wisely so.
Carmelo Anthony, PF: A-
Despite putting in 17 points in the first half, Carmelo was still the second scorer to Smith's 23.
Anthony was aggressive in the third quarter, which was a good thing because the Knicks shot just 5-of-18 in the frame. Melo accounted for nine of the Knicks' 11 points through 10 minutes of the second half.
Carmelo tallied 32 points on the night, but those came on 11-of-28 from the field. Smith scored more points on 10 fewer shots. Melo also fumbled away five turnovers.
Nevertheless, we can't forget Anthony's prowess on the boards. He pulled in 11 rebounds, and seven of those came on the offensive glass.
It was a good game for Melo, and it would have been a great one if a few more shots had fallen.
Kenyon Martin, C: B
K-Mart has been the Knicks' savior with his physical play and efficient scoring just as Tyson Chandler was lost to injury.
The Knicks didn't need much from Martin on Friday night, but he still turned in another strong game on the glass and as a shot-blocking presence.
K-Mart had six points, six boards and three blocked shots, plus his usual complement of hard fouls. Unfortunately, Martin continued to struggle from the line, hitting 2-of-4.
J.R. Smith, SG: A+
Smith has been sublime lately. For the first time in a long time, J.R. is eschewing the perimeter step-back jumper. Much to the delight of Knicks fans, he's been relentless in attacking the hoop, yielding high-percentage shots and copious free throws.
Over the Knicks' six-game win streak, Smith has averaged 24.7 points per game on 51.5 percent shooting. He's also snagged at least five rebounds in each contest.
Friday night was no different, as Smith mercilessly assaulted the Charlotte defense on his way to 23 first-half points on 9-of-11 from the floor. Eight of those shots came within the paint (per NBA.com/stats via @TheKnicksWall).
It was his third straight game with more than 20 in the first half, capturing his dominance pretty well.
And the accolades multiplied from there. Smith finished with 37 points, making him the first Knick to score 30 or more off the bench in three straight games. It was his fifth 30-point performance of the month.
He's having the time of his life, and it's very timely in the absence of Amar'e Stoudemire.
Rest of Bench: B
Jason Kidd has excelled since moving to the bench. He's seeing more time as the point guard on the second unit, and he's more energetic in his limited minutes.
Though Kidd managed only three points against Charlotte, he still had seven boards, three assists and a steal. Kidd saw 23 minutes on Friday, which is probably his optimal usage.
Steve Novak has been playing a different brand of basketball lately. He's hunting for shots. No longer is Novak wandering around on the wing hoping to get left alone. Now he appears to be sniffing out opportunities and aggressively putting up shots in any hint of open space.
Over his last five games, Novak is 11-of-24 from downtown. He was 1-of-1 versus the Bobcats, and his plus-14 rating led the team.
Chris Copeland and Marcus Camby had two points and two boards each. James White played for 15 seconds.
As the streak continues, the Knicks will host the Boston Celtics on Sunday night.