Carmelo Anthony, the NBA's best first-quarter scorer at around 10 points per game, wasn't on his own island to start the game on Thursday night with his 22 points.
He was joined by Raymond Felton, who finished the first period with 10 points. In between Anthony's 3-pointers in transition and jump shots in isolations and off down screens, the Knicks' starting point guard punished the Lakers through his usually potent two-man game with Tyson Chandler.
With no Steve Nash or Steve Blake, Felton knew he had a big opportunity to attack off the dribble and make plays against a weaker defender in point guard Chris Duhon and a less than 100 percent healthy Dwight Howard. By doing so, he got into the lane at ease and had four strong layup finishes in the first period alone. His deep penetration enabled Chandler to receive passes inside and his teammates to get open looks from the outside.
"We had trouble in the first half with pick-and-rolls, and Melo, and trying to stay with the shooters," Mike D'Antoni said after his Lakers lost, 116-107. "They're a hard team to guard."
Felton said in the postgame locker room that he's always looking to be aggressive, especially because he knows Chandler is skilled enough down low to capitalize on offensive putbacks.
"That's something I've been doing all year -- just attacking the basket," he said. "Even sometimes when I don't finish the shot, or with the big man trying to block my shot, Tyson can clean it up for dunks or rebounds. You've just got to be aggressive."
Felton helped set the tempo in the first quarter by pushing the pace in transition, which led to the Knicks' 41-27 first-quarter lead. He must have been listening to D'Antoni's pregame press conference, in which the coach said he was concerned with how dangerous the Knicks could get from downtown in the fastbreak.
He was right, although the numbers entering Thursday night didn't suggest that. The Knicks were averaging an NBA-worst 8.6 fast break points per game, and attempting 12.2 percent of their 3-pointers in transition for 45.3 percent accuracy. But in their win over the Lakers, they scored 16 fast break points and attempted 28.0 percent of their 3-pointers in transition for 85.7 percent accuracy (6-for-7), with two of them coming in the first quarter (both from Anthony).
While Felton struggled from the field in the second half, finishing 9-for-26 overall, he had two huge assists late in the fourth quarter to give the Knicks a double-digit lead. One was an inside pass to Chandler, and then on the very next offensive possession, he dished the ball to J.R. Smith for a 3-pointer to put the Knicks up 111-99 with 3:48 remaining. For the game, Felton had eight assists and only one turnover -- a big change from his seven-assist and seven-turnover night against the Nets on Tuesday night.
Felton's relentless style of play, even when he's missing or turning the ball over, has been keeping the Knicks alive throughout every game, no matter if they're up or down on the scoreboard.
Consistent effort is a simple thing in the NBA, and Felton, who's having a Most Improved Player of the Year campaign -- potentially even All-Star worthy -- represents that well. He's personally playing with a chip on his shoulder, coming off his worst season of his seven-year career. But with the team in mind, the floor general knows that he has to keep his guys playing at a high level.
While Anthony's isolation scoring and leadership is everything and more, Felton's pick-and-roll playmaking and headiness is right up there in importance.
You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.