By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Adding more hope to their dream of a long-awaited return to the NBA winner's circle, the New York Knicks enjoyed a role reversal night against the once-mighty Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
Raining down three-pointers and playing tight defense in sticking to their new formula for success, Carmelo Anthony and his team mates beat the struggling Lakers 116-107, easing to victory after building a 26-point lead in the second quarter.
Anthony scored 30 points in just 23 minutes, sinking 3-of-4 from beyond the arc before being sidelined with a left ankle sprain after crashing to the floor on a drive to the basket.
Despite cooling off in the second half, New York shot 12-of-25 from long-range and 53.2 percent overall with Raymond Felton scoring 19 points and Tyson Chandler chiming in with 18 as the Knicks improved to 9-0 at home.
Reveling in their best start to a season in more than 15 years, the Garden crowd serenaded Anthony with chants of "MVP, MVP" and fans could not be blamed for thinking this season could bring the Knicks their first NBA crown in 40 years.
They also mocked a Lakers franchise, winners of 16 NBA titles, including five since the 1999-2000 season, that look lost under new coach Mike D'Antoni, who left the Knicks job towards the end of last season.
"We were clicking on all cylinders," said Knicks coach Mike Woodson, who categorized Anthony's injury as a slight sprain. "I tip my hat to our guys because our key guy goes out and other guys came in and stepped up and played."
New York improved their Eastern Conference-best record to 17-5 against Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and the hapless Lakers, losers of four in a row and mired in 12th place in the West at 9-14.
Bryant paced the Lakers with 31 points, shooting just 10-of-24 from the field.
D'Antoni said the Lakers still had a lot to work on, with new players mixed into the lineup and injuries to key players including Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.
"Carmelo was unbelievable in the first quarter. He did an unbelievable job," D'Antoni said of Anthony, who missed only one of nine shots in the first 12 minutes. "We just have a lot of things to keep working on."
The Knicks have undergone a transformation, not unlike the recent remodeling of the venerable Garden.
They returned only six players from their post-season roster of a year ago, and two of them - Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert - have yet to suit up this season due to injury.
A crew of well-seasoned old timers including Jason Kidd (39), Rasheed Wallace (38), Kurt Thomas (40) and NBA rookie Pablo Prigioni of Argentina (35) have blended in and tightened up New York's approach to the game.
Coming into Thursday's game, the Knicks led the league in fewest turnovers and had made 252 three-pointers, 48 more than the second-best Houston Rockets.
Against the Lakers, the efficient Knicks turned the ball over just six times versus 13 miscues by Los Angeles.
The Knicks have a slew of quality victories in their hot start, including two wins against defending champions Miami Heat and another over 2011 champions Dallas Mavericks.
Anthony, averaging 27.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists, was considered day-to-day, Woodson said, soothing worries that New York's blistering start would soon be slowed.
(Editing by John O'Brien)