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For Knicks, the leaders are leading

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    New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson talks with J.R. Smith after Smith got a technical foul during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, March 16, 2012, in New York. The Knicks won the game 115-100. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

INDIANAPOLIS — Written on a board in the New York Knicks’ locker room before their 102-88 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night were four familiar lines:

Play Hard

Play Smart

Play Together

Have Fun

The same four lines had appeared for the past few years when Mike D’Antoni was the coach, had been realized at the height of Jeremy Lin’s emergence and had been discarded when Carmelo

Anthony returned from injury and J.R. Smith and Baron Davis joined the rotation.
But those four lines have been realized again in Mike Woodson’s first three games — all double-digit wins — as interim coach.

In a season defined by the unpredictable, these Knicks have responded unexpectedly. Instead of seeing Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire dominate the ball since D’Antoni resigned last week, fans have seen the scoring shared. Instead of being the end of Lin’s enchanted story, it is the start of another chapter.

Woodson’s stars are leading, but they are sharing the spotlight.

Anthony, who had grumbled about his role in D’Antoni’s offense, let Lin take over against the Pacers when the Knicks (21-24) were ahead by three points with eight minutes left in the game. Lin scored eight points in a 9-1 run that built the Knicks’ final cushion. Instead of just waiting for the ball, Anthony cut to the basket and involved his teammates when he played at the point.

After scoring 16 points, Anthony said Woodson’s Knicks had “realized how serious it is right now,” with only 21 games left in the shortened season. Most of Anthony’s shots in the winning streak have come within the flow of the game, and he has taken fewer overall.

During the six-game losing streak that preceded the Knicks’ current winning streak, Anthony averaged 18 shots a game, hitting 38 percent, a little below his season average. But under Woodson, while playing in two blowouts and one close game that turned ugly late, Anthony has taken 12, 12 and 13 shots and has averaged two more assists per game. And the Knicks’ scoring has evened out: seven players have averaged double-digit points in the three games.

Woodson’s offense has included a few more post-up plays, Lin said Saturday. He added that he was “learning to play in a less spread offense.”

“A lot of stuff is the same, but there are times when I won’t have as many opportunities,” Lin said. “I just need to be selective about when to go. I think tonight was a big step for me.”

Going against the Pacers’ Darren Collison, Lin recorded 13 points, five rebounds and five assists Friday, and then 19, seven and six respectively on Saturday, with only five turnovers total in the two games.

But the Knicks’ turnaround did not start with Anthony or Lin; rather, the Knicks point to their defense.

They limited a sleepy Portland team to 29 first-half points and twice held down a competent Pacers squad.

Woodson did not install a new tactical system, though.

“Defensively, the concepts have all been the same,” Lin said. “We haven’t changed anything. I just think we have all 15 guys on the same page, buying in.”

Stoudemire said Woodson simply challenged the team to pressure the ball, rebound and guard pick-and-rolls on defense, while, “offensively, just play your game and have fun.”

“All this stuff we talked about beforehand, we’re starting to do now,” Stoudemire said.

Many of the Knicks liked D’Antoni and his system, but Woodson has proved to have a strong presence.

“He’s able to motivate us,” Anthony said. “He’s able to get the best out of everybody. We can lock in defensively, not have to worry about offense because now we’re relying on our defense to get our offense.”

ESPN reported last week that some of Anthony’s teammates were upset that D’Antoni had not forced him to play within the offense. But Woodson has said he will hold his best players accountable.

“I think he just stays on top of guys — throughout the game, in shootaround, in practices, before the game, here in halftime,” Tyson Chandler said of Woodson. “He just kind of keeps you on your toes.”

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