Larry Brown's return to Madison Square Garden was frustrating on many levels for the well-traveled coach. Based on the way his Charlotte Bobcats are playing, Brown has reason to believe his second visit will be a happier occasion.
The Bobcats look to continue their recent hot streak with a franchise-record sixth straight win Saturday night against the New York Knicks.
Brown endured a miserable year as coach of the Knicks in 2005-06. The team went 23-59 in that bizarre season, in which Brown publicly feuded with players and was accused by management of violating MSG media policies and attempting to broker trades behind former team president Isiah Thomas' back.
Because of the dysfunction that surrounded the Knicks during Brown's brief tenure, the veteran coach was loudly booed during pregame introductions of his first game back in New York on Nov. 5.
The Knicks (25-35) won that game 101-98 behind 24 points from Nate Robinson, whom Brown benched for parts of his rookie season.
Brown said the Bobcats were careless in their third straight loss in New York, but he has to be pleased with their recent play. Charlotte (27-35) has won five straight for just the second time in franchise history.
They started strong Friday, finishing the first quarter with a 15-point lead before holding on for a 98-91 home win over Atlanta. Gerald Wallace had a team-high 21 points, and Raymond Felton and Emeka Okafor added 17 apiece as the Bobcats shot 53.9 percent.
"We had 20 assists in the first half. That was incredible," Brown said. "I thought we did a lot of good things."
Good ball movement is certainly on that list. The Bobcats had 29 assists on 41 field goals, matching their third-highest total of the season. They're 8-0 when they have at least 27 assists, and six of those games have come since Jan. 27.
"We share the ball," Wallace said. "We understand if we swing the ball and make that extra pass that Coach Brown has been harassing us about since day one, we can be a better team."
The Bobcats hope to make franchise history at the expense of the Knicks, who snapped a three-game losing streak with a 109-105 win over the Hawks on Wednesday. Larry Hughes continued his resurgence with 23 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals.
The veteran shooting guard, whose promising career had been derailed by doubts about his durability and attitude, appears to have found the right fit under first-year Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni.
Hughes has totaled 67 points and 25-for-49 shooting in his last three games after accounting for 10 points and 4-for-22 shooting in his first three games with New York following a trade from Chicago, where he'd fallen out of the rotation.
"I was confident he would pick it up, it's just a matter of he didn't play for 30 games when he got here," D'Antoni said. "I was pretty confident. I was just hoping it wasn't too much later because it wouldn't help us a whole lot." Hughes' performance in New York's last game helped the team overcome Robinson's absence. The Knicks' top reserve, averaging 28.3 points over his last nine games, is day-to-day with a sprained left ankle.