CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When Larry Brown came to Charlotte, there were whispers Gerald Wallace wasn't his kind of player. Wallace gambled too much on defense and could be reckless on offense.
Few were surprised when Wallace was nearly traded on draft night, then was the target of Brown's verbal assaults early in the season.
Only Wallace soaked it all in and changed his game, and the results were on display in the Bobcats' 96-85 victory over the New York Knicks on Saturday.
Wallace nearly had his first triple-double, scoring 23 points with nine rebounds and eight assists in an efficient performance that helped the Bobcats match a modest franchise record for victories to stay 2½ games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"I never had a coach who taught me the fundamentals and things I need to work on and improve and be a better player," said Wallace, who surpassed 20 points for the eighth time in 12 games. "I think that's one of the things I embraced. I really wanted to be coached."
Wallace hit seven of 12 shots and nearly had the first triple-double in team history.
"He's a great listener," said Brown, who earned a season split against the team that fired him three years ago. "He probably asks me better questions than anybody I've ever been around. I think he just wants to be coached."
The Knicks played without Quentin Richardson, who sprained his left ankle a night earlier and was replaced in the starting lineup by Larry Hughes. They also got little from center Eddy Curry in his return.
Curry had played in only one game this season -- a 3-minute stint at Dallas on Jan. 8 -- due to knee pain. He also left the team later that month after his baby daughter and ex-girlfriend were shot to death in Chicago.
Coach Mike D'Antoni said he wanted to have Curry, a disappointment with the Knicks, play his first game away from the pressure of Madison Square Garden.
But Curry appeared a long way from game shape, lumbering up the floor and getting called for three fouls in 2 second-quarter minutes. That included shoving Okafor to the floor to prevent a layup after getting beat down the court.
"He hasn't played in a year," D'Antoni said. "There's no way two or three half practices that after a year you can come in and everybody has played a whole season at the top of their game he'll be able to contribute. He's not superhuman."
Curry didn't play in the second half, and the Knicks couldn't duplicate a solid first quarter a night after beating New Orleans to end a six-game slide.
"I just want to be a part of what's going on," said Curry, who indicated he felt no pain in his knees. "I've definitely become attached to these guys."
The Bobcats' best record since joining the NBA was 33-49 in 2006-07, and Charlotte had little trouble matching that win total against the Knicks thanks to Wallace.
After trailing by nine early, Wallace led Charlotte's second quarter charge, including hitting three free throws in the final second of the first half to put Charlotte ahead 50-44. The Bobcats built a 12-point third-quarter lead.
Wallace's only miscue was when he was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim after a dunk -- something the Knicks' Harrington has done twice this season -- with 1:37 left.
"I'm learning every day and I'm getting a whole lot better," Wallace said. "I see a lot of the things he was complaining and fussing about and going off on me about at the beginning of training camp. I'm starting to see the effects they've had on me as a player. Every day I learn something new from [Brown]."
Knicks G Nate Robinson avoided a suspension for his altercation with Chris Paul on Friday, which drew his 12th technical foul of the season. "Every call, you can't just continually complain. He has that bad habit," D'Antoni said. ... Brown said he doesn't feel vindicated leading the improved Bobcats after his 23-59 debacle in New York in 2005-06. "I didn't doubt if I could coach or not," Brown said. "I was disappointed and embarrassed by what went on in New York, but I still thought I had something to give." ... The lights were dimmed at halftime to film a scene for the television show "One Tree Hill." Character Nathan Scott was introduced as a Bobcats starter -- seven times -- to cheers from the crowd.
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