The Knicks' Carmelo Anthony dunks over the Cavaliers' Tyler Zeller during the first quarter Thursday night in New York. Anthony scored 18 in the first quarter alone.
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NEW YORK — J.R. Smith left Anthony Bennett standing still and Tristan Thompson on his backside.
The New York Knicks didn’t just beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, they embarrassed them.
Carmelo Anthony and rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. each scored 29 points, Smith had 19, and the Knicks won 117-86 Thursday night for their fourth straight victory.
The Knicks wrapped up a 10-6 January after going just 9-21 through the end of December. They have rebounded from losing the first three games on their franchise record-tying, eight-game homestand and can finish it with a winning record if they beat Miami on Saturday night.
“It is starting to feel a lot better here on our home court to win basketball games,” Anthony said. “We’re just trying to keep it going.”
Anthony scored 18 in the first quarter, only two off his total from his franchise-record, 62-point game Friday night. But he sat nearly half of the second quarter to fall well off the pace, as he had 37 points at halftime that night.
He still scored enough to become the 50th player in NBA history to surpass 19,000 points.
Hardaway had a career high in points and tied the Knicks’ rookie record with six 3-pointers.
“I knew that if I could shoot the ball very, very well at the next level, then I should be able to help the team out,” he said.
But the dazzling plays were provided by Smith, who had to keep himself from laughing when he crossed over Thompson so bad that the forward fell down as Smith was making a jumper.
Smith was starting for Iman Shumpert, who was out with a sprained right shoulder. The Knicks were also missing Andrea Bargnani (left elbow ligament), Kenyon Martin (sprained left ankle) and Amare Stoudemire (sprained left ankle), who are all starters or key reserves.
Even without them, they cruised to their third easy victory during their winning streak.
“These are the bright spots you want to have, especially playing at home,” Smith said. “You’ve got your teammates on the bench going crazy, guys on the court are excited and love to play the game and there’s nothing better than that.”
Kyrie Irving scored 24 points for the Cavs on a day in which his long-term commitment to Cleveland was again questioned.
“There’s just so much negative attention. I mean I know we’re struggling, but I mean it’s just not about me. It’s about our team,” Irving said.
Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick, was coming off a season-best 15 points in his last outing. But this one was another of the forgettable performances that have made up his season: four points on 1-of-6 shooting.
He came in a little more than 4 minutes into the game, and the Knicks immediately began attacking him. Smith had the ball in the corner and blew by him along the baseline before pulling the ball down while in the air and then pulling it back up before slamming it in. Anthony had the ball near the free throw line on the next possession, easily went by the rookie and laid it in to make it 26-9.
The Knicks doubled the Cavs up at 58-29 when Anthony made two free throws with 4:23 remaining in the half, and New York led 60-36 at halftime.
The Cavaliers have lost three straight and five of six. General manager Chris Grant said Wednesday that the Cavs’ “lack of effort is just not acceptable,” but they were so bad so fast in this one that it was hard to tell if the effort was any better.
But the bigger concern for Cavs fans may have come earlier in the day, when an ESPN.com writer wrote that Irving, the 2011 No. 1 pick, was already telling people privately that he wanted out of Cleveland.
He said it was too early to say if he would sign an extension this summer, but said he enjoyed playing for the Cavaliers.
“I’m still in my rookie contract and I’m happy to be here and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be here for a long time,” Irving said. “I’m not saying anything to foretell the future, but I’m pretty sure the relationship I have with (owner) Dan Gilbert and management extends off the court and I enjoy being here.”
Dion Waiters had 21 points for the Cavs, who played without Anderson Varejao (bruised left knee) and allowed the Knicks to shoot 57 percent from the field.
NOTES: The crowd included Denver Broncos defensive back Champ Bailey and NBA Commissioner David Stern, who is retiring Saturday. The Knicks honored Stern with a video narrated by former Knicks star Bill Bradley, a member of both of New York’s championship teams.
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