NEW YORK — There's little margin for error, and the New York Knicks know it.
They need a big finish to the regular season, and after the way they've started the last two games, maybe they have one in them.
Carmelo Anthony scored 18 of his 29 points in the first quarter, sending the Knicks to a rare easy night in a 108-81 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday.
With a long way to go to get back into playoff position, the Knicks won their second straight following a seven-game losing streak. They began a favorable portion of their schedule by opening an early double-digit lead and remaining comfortably ahead the rest of the way.
They scored 39 points in the first quarter, their best in any period this season, after scoring 38 in the opening 12 minutes at Minnesota on Wednesday.
"Last two games is, we had no choice," coach Mike Woodson said. "Time is somewhat running out and every game is important."
Anthony added a season-high eight assists while playing just three quarters of a game that wasn't competitive for long after the opening tip. J.R. Smith had 17 points and Tyson Chandler finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Knicks, who led by as many as 32.
"We can either cave in and let teams beat the hell out of us, or we can come out there fighting," Smith said. "Thankfully we are coming out here fighting and it starts on the defensive end."
Amare Stoudemire, who has moved into the starting lineup along with Smith, scored 10 for the Knicks. They visit Cleveland on Saturday to play one of the teams in between them and Atlanta, which currently holds the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. New York entered play 5½ games behind the Hawks.
The losing has wrecked Anthony's hopes of putting off discussion about his free-agency plans until after the season. His brief postgame questions were focused on reports that Chicago's Joakim Noah talked to him about joining the Bulls, and that the Knicks had spoken to Phil Jackson about a role in the organization's management.
"It's going to be more stories coming out, more speculation, everybody's going to have their own take on different stories, so for me I've got to focus on playing ball and that's it," Anthony said.
He did it well Friday, despite battling a cold.
Anthony scored New York's final 11 points in the first quarter, with a four-point play and another 3-pointer in the final 38 seconds as the Knicks opened a 39-22 lead on 70 percent shooting.
New York stretched the lead to 21 late in the second quarter and was ahead 60-41 at halftime.
New York is 23-40 but still has playoff aspirations due to all the weak competition at the bottom of the East. The Knicks' upcoming schedule gives them hope, with games against Philadelphia, Boston and Milwaukee, all among the NBA's worst teams, next week.
They had no trouble with the Jazz, another lowly squad that lost to the Knicks for the fifth straight time.
Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks each scored 18 for the Jazz, who dropped their fifth straight and fell to 0-5 on their six-game, nine-day trip that ends Saturday in Philadelphia.
"I thought for two or three months we've played pretty steady basketball, right around .500 basketball. For us that was a step in the right direction," forward Richard Jefferson said. "Now we're at the end of the season, you've got a lot of guys playing minutes that they've never played before. We can see fatigue, frustration. A lot of things are coming into play, but you've got to stick with it."
NOTES: The Knicks will take part in a news conference Monday at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, New York, with county and NBA Development League officials to discuss their plans to bring a franchise to Westchester. ... Blown out in Chicago on ABC last Sunday, the Knicks had their April 13 rematch with the Bulls in New York booted off the network Friday. It will become a 7:30 p.m. start with no national TV coverage, while Oklahoma City at Indiana was moved to the 1 p.m. spot. ... Utah's trip is the longest by days since early in the 2003-04 season.