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Steve Aschburner

Like the rest of the league lately, Joakim Noah's Bulls easily held off Amar'e Stoudemire and the Knicks.
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Reeling Knicks face same problems, same lack of solutions

Posted Mar 13 2012 12:32PM

CHICAGO -- Amar'e Stoudemire was on one side of the visitors' dressing room, drawing yet another line in the sand for himself and his New York Knicks teammates. The Knicks have played six games so far this month and lost them all, so this was line No. 7.

"Joking around has to stop at some point," the Knicks power forward said. "Especially at a time when we're the eighth seed and not playing well. The time is now. There's no time for fun and games."

Across the room a few minutes later, Carmelo Anthony -- another captain of this squad -- was asked a serious question about how the Knicks, struggling so, might work out their many kinks. In their 104-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls at United Center Monday, those kinks ranged from offensive gears that have seized up around Anthony's ball-stopping ways to a palpable disdain for grungy things like rebounds and loose balls.

"I don't know," Anthony said, joking around. "I saw one of the college teams was having a drill where they was throwing the ball out of bounds, jumping off the court and diving on the floor. So maybe we should start doing that."

Maybe the Knicks should do that. Because what they're doing these days surely isn't working. March has come in like a lamb for New York and will go out like mutton if Anthony, Stoudemire, coach Mike D'Antoni and the rest don't dramatically change what they're doing. Their dogged ways (sending onto the floor all that alleged talent and D'Antoni's precious offensive system, but way too few lunging bodies or skinned knees) are producing the same predictable results.

"Linsanity" has been transformed into the true Einstein definition of insanity.

Jeremy Lin, the backcourt sensation who was everyone's Flavor of the Month in February, got 15 minutes of fame that flew by like the proverbial New York minute. The ensemble approach that freed D'Antoni to coach offense rather than wrangle egos has ended. The Knicks are 5-9 since Stoudemire returned from the death of his brother and 2-8 since Anthony recovered from a groin injury. It's all about the big names again and who scores, instead of work and energy and the name ("Nueva York" on Monday) on the fronts of the jerseys.

"We don't feel great about our position," Stoudemire said. "We feel like we're a much better team than being the eighth seed."

Not the way they're playing. One of the truisms of the NBA is that you are what your record says you are and the Knicks, by the end of the night Monday, had dropped into a tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that plays harder and more together than the Knicks.

Match that 18-24 record with a $75.6 million payroll and you get a team that's as dyspeptic as it is dysfunctional.

There are multiple reasons. New York's schedule has turned considerably more challenging since the heady, early days (7-0) of Lin's emergence. In place of the Wizards, the Kings and the Raptors, the Knicks have been facing the Heat, Mavericks, the Spurs and the Bulls, all on the road, as well as a selfless Sixers club Sunday at Madison Square Garden that routed them.

Lin, the point guard from Harvard, has been scouted thoroughly and still is adjusting to the adjustments made against him (doubling early before the pick-and-roll, getting physical at every chance). No shame in that. But the inability of Anthony, Stoudemire and D'Antoni to mesh offensively -- it smacks of hardheadedness -- and their shared disregard for defense are the real problems. They are flaws that won't be fixed with this roster or, at least, this rotation.

So how 'bout this? Make Anthony the sixth man. Do what countless NBA coaches have done before with their talented but incorrigible, high maintenance players and flip the keys to the second unit to him. As New York's sixth man, 'Melo could fire at will, dominate the ball and attack the matchups that suit him, without dragging down the overall game plan. Let him focus on buckets, which is all he wants anyway.

Anthony is the closest thing in the NBA to Randy Moss when Moss knows the football isn't headed his way: His route gets sloppy, his throttle pulls back. So let him cavort against the subs. New York played its best basketball of the season with Anthony as 13th man. At least sixth man is a little closer to that.

Egos, the tabloids and D'Antoni's Knicks' tenure, of course, would spontaneously combust if the coach made such a move. So the team will muddle along and Anthony will continue on his entitlement tour through the NBA, sounding all Marie Antoinette-ish when forced to acknowledge the reasons why Chicago smacked his team down Monday.

The Bulls, at 35-9, have been 16 games better so far, yet were more willing to chase, reach, strain, dive and shove for what they wanted -- a victory -- than Anthony, Stoudemire or any of the Knicks.

"When we're losing games by minor things -- which is major things, offensive rebounds, second-chance shots -- that gives the other team momentum and the chance to run another play or score a basket," Anthony said, catching himself. "Maybe I should grab another rebound. Or dive on the floor. Something."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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