CLEVELAND — For once, the most important number on Carmelo Anthony’s stat line was his minutes.
Anthony continued a push to win his first NBA scoring title with 31 points and 14 rebounds in just 30 minutes, and the New York Knicks bounced back after having their winning streak stopped at 13 games one night earlier by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 101-91 on Friday.
Anthony’s streak of scoring at least 35 points ended at six games as New York coach Mike Woodson chose to rest the All-Star forward the entire fourth quarter.
J.R. Smith also scored 31 — 13 in the fourth while Anthony watched — for New York, which is trying to hold off Indiana for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Knicks have a three-game lead over the Pacers with three games remaining for both teams, heading into their matchup Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
Anthony was more than happy to share the scoring load — and spotlight — with Smith, who made his final 12 shots and finished 13-of-16 from the field.
“J.R. was spectacular,” Anthony said. “I needed him to do that. He gave me a chance to sit down.”
Kyrie Irving scored 31 for the Cavs, who are 4-17 since March 1. Irving attempted a career-high 27 shots, but couldn’t keep pace with Anthony and Smith.
“You’ve got two guys who are very special,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “That’s what that team does — they make shots.”
Anthony came in as the league’s scoring leader, averaging 28.7 points per game and he did what he needed to keep the pressure on Kevin Durant (28.3) as they battle for the scoring title with just a few days left in the season. Anthony scored 14 in the third quarter, helping the Knicks open an 11-point lead entering the fourth.
Woodson felt comfortable enough with the lead to sit Anthony. So Smith took over, dropping a variety of jumpers much to the amusement of Anthony who stood and cheered his teammate from the bench.
“I just got into a rhythm,” Smith said. “I knew Carmelo was pretty much done (playing), so I wanted to put the game away so everybody could get some rest.
New York was determined to erase the taste of Thursday’s 118-111 overtime loss in Chicago, the Knicks first since March 17. They want to build some momentum heading to the postseason and Anthony and Smith made sure of it, combining for 62 points and 19 rebounds. They even added a combined three assists, not bad considering it’s rare either gives up the ball for anyone.
Woodson was hoping he would be able to rest Anthony and Smith, and with some help from the other Knicks, he got his wish.
“Nobody wanted to play big minutes, especially our two big guys (Anthony and Smith), so everything worked out great,” Woodson said. “I was a little worried how we’d come out after last night, but we came out with energy and sustained it throughout the game.”
The Knicks only had 10 players in uniform as they push toward the close of the regular season missing some key parts.
All-Star center Tyson Chandler (bulging disc), forwards Amare Stoudemire (knee surgery), Kenyon Martin (sprained ankle), Marcus Camby (plantar fasciitis) and Rasheed Wallace (broken foot) are all out.
Chandler and Martin are expected to return for the playoffs when the Atlantic Division champions will try to win a series for the first time since 2000.
“I love our chances,” Smith said. “We’re playing our best basketball even though we’re still kind of handicapped without our bigs.”
With a section of New York fans leading “M-V-P” chants with every bucket, Anthony scored 12 consecutive points in the third quarter as the Knicks kept a Cavs team staggering to the finish at a distance. Anthony’s three-point play put New York ahead by 11 and Jason Kidd followed with a rainbow 3-pointer to make it 69-55.
Irving was determined to keep the Cavs close and he kept launching shots in a shootout he wasn’t going to win. He scored 12 in the third as Cleveland went into the final period down 75-64.
But Smith and Kidd hit consecutive 3-pointers early in the fourth to put the Knicks up 16 and New York pushed its lead to 21.
New York made 10 more 3-pointers, increasing their league record to 857 this season.
“That’s one of the toughest teams in the league,” said Irving, who is just 40-of -13 in six games since returning from a left shoulder injury. “We contested most of their shots and they made some tough ones.”
Tristan Thompson added 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Cavs, who are down to three more game in another dismal season. There’s no guarantee coach Byron Scott will be back next season.
On their previous visit, the Knicks fell behind by 22 in the first half and lost Anthony, who came up limping after tripping and hurting his knee.
New York rallied without their superstar for a 102-97 win, but the Knicks left Cleveland looking nothing like a team capable of making a deep postseason run.
However, they’ve gone 17-6 since then, and could finish with the East’s second-best record.
There was no falling behind this time.
Smith scored New York’s first 10 points in the second quarter, and the Knicks went on a 13-0 run capped by a 3-pointer by Steve Novak to open a 44-30 lead.
“After last night, we had to push ourselves early,” Anthony said, “so I wanted to come out and get it going.”
The Cavs were without rookie G Dion Waiters, their second-leading scorer. Waiters never made it to the arena and Scott said he was dealing with a “family matter.” Waiters has missed 21 games overall.
• The Cavs will play their final home game on Monday against LeBron James and the Heat, who rallied from a 27-point deficit to win in Cleveland on March 20.
• Kidd tied Reggie Miller for seventh place on the career list with 1,389 games played.
• New York has won two straight in Cleveland after dropping 10 in a row.
• Waiving Kurt Thomas, the NBA’s oldest player, opened a roster spot for the Knicks, who signed C Solomon Jones. The 6-foot-10 Jones played previously for Woodson in Atlanta. Jones didn’t score in 12 minutes.
• WHO: Cleveland vs. Philadelphia
• WHEN: Sunday, 3:30 p.m.
• WHERE: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
• TV/RADIO: FS Ohio, Channel 43; WTAM 1100-AM