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Knicks' third straight win ties season's best

NEW YORK (AP) -- For the New York Knicks, a loss would have been
beyond demoralizing. More like devastating, an excuse to mail in
the final 25 games of the season.

Such a calamity nearly happened as New York blew a 10-point lead
in the final 46 seconds of regulation, but the Knicks refused to
give up and held the Los Angeles Lakers scoreless over the final
2:25 of overtime in a 117-115 victory Monday night.

"That was a gut check for us, but we really stepped up," New
York's Jamal Crawford said. "(A loss) really would have bothered
all of us. To have three or four days off until our next game, it
would have weighed on our minds."

"Everybody's going to sleep a little better tonight, and the
food they eat is going to taste a little better," Crawford said.

The victory was the third straight for the Knicks, matching
their longest winning streak of the season. New York remained in
last place in the Atlantic Division but pulled within five games of
the first-place Boston Celtics.

Kobe Bryant forced overtime by making a 3-pointer with 4.4
seconds left in regulation, but he couldn't come up with another
big play at the end.

The Lakers had a chance for the final shot, but Bryant passed to
Luke Walton on the left side of the key, and Walton tossed the ball
back to Bryant rather than taking a shot. Bryant wasn't expecting
the pass and fumbled it briefly -- just enough time for Kurt Thomas
to recover and block Bryant's look at the basket.

Bryant tried to dribble a few steps away for a buzzer-beater,
but the clock ran out. He angrily spiked the ball to the ground and
shot a glance at Walton as the Knicks celebrated.

"It was a mix-up in communication," Bryant said. "I kicked it
to Luke and thought he had a pretty good look. He fired it back to
me and I bobbled it.

"We're going to have to take our lumps, being a young team, and
we're taking them now," Bryant said.

Tim Thomas scored a season-high 35 points, Michael Sweetney tied
his career high with 19 points and grabbed a career-high 12
rebounds, and Kurt Thomas had 15 points and 12 rebounds as New
York's front line dominated.

Bryant had 30 points, eight assists, five rebounds and seven
turnovers, and Lamar Odom had 26 points and 15 rebounds for the
Lakers.

Tim Thomas shot 13-for-19, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range,
as the Knicks won at home for the fifth straight time.

Thomas has been playing better lately after struggling though
one of the worst seasons of his professional career. He had 27
points in a victory over Philadelphia, 11 points in a win over
Indiana and his first 30-point game of the year against the Lakers.

"I'm healthy, and mentally my mind is free of everything,"
Thomas said. "I thought I broke a glass or something, because it
seemed like everything was going wrong. I tried to stay positive
and be patient, because I knew at some time it was going to turn
around."

Los Angeles (28-27) has lost three in a row and is in danger of
dropping to .500 for the first time since being 5-5.

The Lakers opened a 115-111 lead midway through overtime on a
three-point play by Bryant, but they didn't score again. Marbury's
layup was goaltended by Odom with 1:10 left, and Crawford came up
with a steal while guarding Chucky Atkins.

Marbury missed a shot and Kurt Thomas missed a putback, but Tim
Thomas converted a tip-in to tie it. Bryant lost control of the
ball on the Lakers' next possession, and Marbury was fouled on the
perimeter by Atkins with 12.1 seconds remaining. Marbury made both
foul shots for a 117-115 lead, setting up the Lakers' final
possession.

The Lakers outscored the Knicks 39-24 in the fourth quarter to
force overtime. Los Angeles came back from a 10-point deficit in
the final minute of regulation by hitting four 3-pointers -- one
each by Atkins, Odom, Caron Butler and Bryant.

The final 3 by Bryant came after Marbury went to the line with
17.8 seconds remaining with a chance to put the Knicks ahead by
four. Marbury missed the second of two from the line, and Bryant
stuck a 25-footer over Kurt Thomas to tie it at 107.

The Knicks got the final shot of regulation, but Bryant played
tight defense on Crawford and forced him to take a difficult
18-footer that missed.

Game notes
Atkins made five 3-pointers and scored 22. ... The Knicks
had 14 steals, three by Marbury. ... Jermaine Jackson, signed by
the Knicks to a 10-day contract earlier in the day, did not play.
... The game drew a sellout crowd, the Knicks' 21st, and almost all
the seats were full despite a snowstorm hitting New York as the
game was played.