Douglas undresses Paul at the Garden

NEW YORK -- Some prankster stole Toney Douglas' underwear from his locker, forcing him to conduct his postgame interview wearing only a towel.

Douglas fingered Amare Stoudemire as the most likely suspect, and if Douglas' hunch is correct, then Stoudemire should be sentenced to a week of fetching the same Krispy Kreme donuts that Douglas had to fetch back when he was a rookie.


Because this was a night when Douglas absolutely undressed the opposing point guard, Chris Paul, who is supposedly in line to take over the playmaking duties in New York by the time the fall of 2012 rolls around.

That was simply the naked truth, and forcing Douglas to travel home commando was just plain wrong.

Douglas is well aware of the speculation surrounding the future of Paul, who was a part of the now-famous toast at Carmelo Anthony's wedding in which the guests raised their glasses to the possibility of Stoudemire, Anthony and Paul someday taking their collective talents together to the corner of 33rd and Eighth. "I don't really get into all that," Douglas said. "I knew Chris since we were in high school, and he's a great player. I don't know what's going to happen in 2012, but I just continue to become a better basketball player and keep working every day. And whatever coach asks me to do, I'm going to do."

What coach Mike D'Antoni specifically asked Douglas to do Wednesday was to begin playing with an ego, to stop being too deferential to Stoudemire and Anthony, and to take a cue from the injured player he was replacing, Chauncey Billups, and be an offensive initiator if necessary instead of an offensive facilitator.

The message sunk in. Douglas was aggressive from the start in scoring New York's first five points of the game and finishing with 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting, including 4-for-6 on 3-pointers, while helping hold Paul to just four points on 2-for-7 shooting as the Knicks defeated New Orleans 107-88 on Wednesday night.

Paul got a raucous ovation from a Madison Square Garden crowd that may have grown delusional over the past few weeks dreaming of a having a max-salary threesome to compete with the Miami Heat's superstar trio for the next four seasons.

But there is no telling what the league's salary cap rules will be after the current labor agreement expires at the end of June, and whether obtaining Paul will even be financially feasible.

"People who know me know I'm fully invested in anything I'm a part of. One thing is New Orleans and my team," Paul said. "I have the ultimate faith in my team and what we're capable of, and we're just not doing it right now. That's a long time from now, free agency."

Also, you never know if there might someday be an increased level of consistency from Douglas, who shot 1-for-6, 1-for-7 and 1-for-8 in his previous three games after going 10-for-12 a week earlier against Milwaukee on the night Anthony made his Knicks debut.

If there is, Douglas could be the player ready to step in as the starter in the fall of 2012 after Chauncey Billups' contract expires.

Anthony (22 points) and Stoudemire (24 points) did what was expected of them, and Shawne Williams knocked down four 3-pointers in the second half while scoring 16 points off the bench to help the Knicks turn this one into so much of a laugher that the fans chanted for seldom-used shooting guard Roger Mason in the fourth quarter -- and Mason responded by knocking down both of his shots, doubling the number of buckets he had previously made this season. (Mason entered the game 1-for-16 from the field, with his last make having come way back on Nov. 14.)

But it was Douglas who was the X-factor, starting at the point as Billups sat out (staying in the players' lounge because he did not have clothes with him that were nice enough to pass muster with the NBA's dress code police) with a deep thigh bruise.

"I give a lot of respect to Chris Paul, but I've got to go out there and make him work, see how he does, and if he's doing things that's hurting us, adjust to it," Douglas said.

The Knicks got a chance to show off their two newest pieces, too, as Jared Jeffries played 24 minutes without scoring a point but grabbed four offensive rebounds, and Derrick Brown played the last four minutes of garbage time as Mason's running mate.

New York went 10-for-22 from 3-point range and improved to 19-4 when making at least 10 3s, and the 19-point margin of victory was the fourth-largest of the season and the biggest since the Knicks defeated Phoenix by 25 on Jan. 7.

The Knicks also improved to 16-2 when holding an opponent to less than 100 points, 8-6 in the second night of back-to-backs, 15-7 when outrebounding their opponent, and 15-7 in the last 22 games at the Garden, which was sold out for the 18th consecutive time.

Douglas received a polite ovation when he exited the game during the third quarter after putting the Knicks in control, but it was nothing compared to the welcome Paul received when he was announced during player introductions

And yes, Douglas acknowledged, he had heard that loud ovation for Paul.

"It isn't just the fans and coaches that have had two different teams. He's had about four different teams in two years, and he's got to learn to play with other guys," D'Antoni said. "It's easy when you're the playmaker and you've got Amare Stoudemire here and Carmelo Anthony there, and he's in the middle with the ball. You can get all whacked out, and he had to settle down, be himself and play his game. And it takes a while.

"You can't just watch those guys play, you've got to play. And he's got to have an ego, and a game where he's Toney Douglas, and that's enough," D'Antoni said. "Tonight was a good step, and he's just got to keep it there."