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NEW YORK -- Carmelo Anthony admitted he and his New York Knicks teammates were undone by everything from a lack of energy in the first half to the soothing sounds of Christmas carols at halftime Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
However, when Anthony picked up his fifth foul with three minutes left on a night when the Knicks trailed the Minnesota Timberwolves nearly all the way, his offensive output took off.
Anthony, who was ejected from Friday night's loss to the Chicago Bulls in the fourth quarter, suddenly took over, scoring the Knicks' final 12 points in the last two minutes to lead them to a 94-91 win.
"That was a MVP performance at the end," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said of Anthony, who finished with 33 points, including 19 in the final period. "He stepped it up, and he made the plays. When he got his fifth foul, it's like a light went on and we needed it desperately."
So the Knicks (20-7) will head to Los Angeles for their marquee matchup with the Lakers on Christmas Day fresh off a bumpy 4-2 homestand instead of limping away with three losses in their last four games as it looked they might for most of Sunday's game.
Nikola Pekovic had 21 points and 17 rebounds for the Timberwolves (13-12), who were playing without injured forward Kevin Love and lost for the third time in four games.
Many Knicks said weren't at peak performance, attributing their early sluggishness to everything from the pending trip to Los Angeles to the holidays and a 5 p.m. Sunday start time. But they stepped up in the second half, limiting Minnesota 18 points in the third and another 18 in the fourth after giving up plenty of easy baskets early.
"We have to be a little bit more careful at the end of the game," said Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko, who fouled out in the final minute. "We have to stick with the lead. We have to find a way to attack the basket with a high-percentage shot."
After shooting at a low percentage on 3-pointers (23.1 percent -- 6-for-26), the Knicks escaped with a win thanks largely to Anthony and J.R. Smith (19 points, seven assists). Smith found Anthony wide open for a 3-pointer that started the surge and cut Minnesota's lead to 86-85 with 1:53 left.
Anthony, who had been 9-for-25 from the field and just 2-for-10 from behind the 3-point arc entering the final two minutes, scored six points in a 40-second span to give the Knicks their first lead since the first two minutes of the game.
On New York's next possession after his 3-pointer, Anthony hit a layup for an 87-86 lead and drew a foul with 1:13 left. Anthony then hit the foul shot as the crowd offered its familiar "M-V-P" chant, a rare moment of buzz on a mostly silent night.
"It was dead a little bit," Anthony said of the crowd. "I think the music at halftime, they were playing the Christmas carols, put us to sleep."
Anthony later added with a smile, "I love Christmas music. Just that point of the game, we were down, we didn't have no energy, then they're throwing the, 'Chestnuts are roasting ..."
Anthony was jolted from the lull by his fifth foul and indicated he didn't agree with some of the foul calls, saying "it is what it is."
"Just keeping my composure," Anthony said of his mindset and how he wanted to send a message to his teammates. "I'm out here with five fouls, but I'm playing, I'm doing what I need to be doing out here on the court."
After Anthony gave the Knicks the lead, New York center Tyson Chandler pulled down a rebound after several second chances on the next possession for Minnesota -- which outrebounded the Knicks 47-35. Anthony then hit two free throws to give New York a 90-86 lead with 31 seconds left.
He hit four more foul shots in the final half-minute to lock up the win.
Minnesota moved the ball well for most of the game, a trait the Knicks shared for most of the season until recently. The Knicks finished the game with a combined four assists from their point guards, and Jason Kidd was held scoreless.
Going with a three-guard lineup to start the game with Love out, Minnesota got 18 points from Alexey Shved, 14 from Luke Ridnour and 12 from Jose Juan Barea. Dante Cunningham also scored 12 for the Wolves.
Trailing by 11 in the third quarter, the Knicks closed within 73-71 entering the fourth.
New York went on a 13-4 spurt, thanks to five points apiece from Anthony and Smith.
NOTES: Anthony, in an interview on ESPN's "SportsCenter," said it would be "unacceptable" to him if the Knicks did not at least reach the Eastern Conference finals this season. Anthony also said he and forward Amar'e Stoudemire would be able to mesh well when Stoudemire returns from left knee surgery because they trust the system and trust one another. ... Stoudemire is expected to travel with the Knicks on their road trip, with the hope that he can return sometime in the coming week. ... Anthony said he was glad the second technical foul call that led to his ejection was rescinded by the NBA on Saturday, adding he would have fought it otherwise. ... Knicks center Marcus Camby and forward Rasheed Wallace were out again due to left foot injuries. Wallace remains day-to-day, but Camby said before the game he should be able to return against the Lakers in the teams' Christmas Day matchup in Los Angeles. ... Love injured his eye in Thursday's win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.