NEW YORK — Larry Hughes' shot is back, just in time to help the New York Knicks chase a playoff spot they still think is available.
Hughes scored 23 points to continue his turnaround from a rocky start with his new team, and the Knicks snapped a three-game losing streak with a 109-105 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.
Hughes was acquired from Chicago at the trade deadline but was clearly rusty after not playing at all toward the end of his Bulls' tenure. He began his Knicks career with three straight dreadful games, going 4-for-22 and quickly becoming a target of the fans' boos. But he averaged 22 points in two losses over the weekend and followed with a 9-for-18 night in 41 minutes Wednesday.
"I was confident he would pick it up, it's just a matter of he didn't play for 30 games when he got here," Knicks coach Mike
D'Antoni said. "I was pretty confident. I was just hoping it wasn't too much later because it wouldn't help us a whole lot."
Al Harrington had 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Danilo Gallinari scored a career-high 17 points for New York, which got March off to a good start after a 3-10 February that damaged its hopes of making the playoffs in D'Antoni's first season. Wilson
Chandler finished with 18 points, and David Lee had 13 points and 14 rebounds for his 24th straight double-double.
The Knicks are two games behind the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls, who are tied in the race for the final Eastern
Conference spot, but with three other teams ahead of them and a road-heavy schedule remaining. They went most of the season without a shooting guard after trading Jamal Crawford in November, and hoped Hughes could fill the void.
"I gave myself a week, just getting out there, just running up and down and competing and you know it was right on schedule," Hughes said. "I wasn't worried. I knew I'd put the work in."
Al Horford had 20 points and 13 rebounds for the Hawks, who are trying to hold off Miami and Detroit for fourth place in the East but lost for the fifth time in seven games. Joe Johnson scored 18 points, Marvin Williams 17 and Josh Smith 16 as Atlanta's lead over the Heat dropped to 11/2 games for home-court advantage in the first round.
"We don't want to be in the fourth spot now and look back five weeks down the road and know we're in the fifth spot or the sixth spot," Williams said. "Every game is really going to count for us and we've got to play with that urgency we had early in the season."
The Knicks, wearing Nueva York jerseys as part of "Noche Latina" — Latin night — were without top reserve Nate Robinson, who had a sprained left ankle. Gallinari, the No. 6 overall pick in the draft from Italy who missed most of the first half of the season with a back injury, helped them overcome that with the best game of his short career.
He checked back in with under 3 minutes remaining in the third quarter and quickly had a driving layup and stepped back for a 3-pointer, helping New York extend a four-point lead to 79-72. The Knicks led 84-75 after three, and Gallinari nailed another 3 to open the fourth and extend the lead to 12.
He said he didn't pressure himself to have a big night to replace Robinson's production.
"Warming up I was just thinking about being ready. That's my thought every time," Gallinari said. "So I was not thinking about the situation of the team, how many guys we've got injured. I was just thinking about being ready."
Harrington followed with a pair of buckgts while drawing fouls and Hughes scored to push the lead to 95-79 with about nine minutes to go. Atlanta didn't make another serious run until the final two minutes.
The Hawks powered their way to 24 points in the paint on their way to a 26-22 lead after one quarter. Atlanta led by as many as eight in the second, but New York surged back and took a 51-49 edge into halftime after Chandler's free throws with 3.6 seconds left.
"I thought we came out ready to play," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "First quarter was excellent and then the second and third quarter once we got down we really pushed up in the fourth quarter, but it was just too late."
Notes: The Knicks were also without Jared Jeffries (bruised left knee). ... Atlanta remained on 14 road wins and needs one more to hit 15 for the first time since the lockout-delayed 1999 season. ... Eight teams are taking part in Latin night games this month. Dallas was wearing "Los Mavs" uniforms for their game Wednesday night against San Antonio.