The ’ offense surged, but their defense regressed. Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert returned to wild cheers, but Shumpert limped away again — his health a momentary concern, albeit one ultimately eclipsed by a disheartening .
It was the Knicks’ second straight home loss to an inferior team, their , and it elicited a torrent of boos.
“That one, that hurt,” said Carmelo Anthony, who led the Knicks with 32 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. “Just the way we’ve been playing the last couple games — I mean, it hurts to lose games like that. To dig ourselves a hole like that and trying to fight back every time, it takes a toll on everybody.”
Shumpert, a rookie guard, left the game in the fourth quarter, but the problem was merely leg cramps. His sprained right knee held up fine.
The Knicks (2-4) spent their (brief) preseason talking up their new defensive focus, emboldened by the arrival of center Tyson Chandler and the defensive-minded assistant coach Mike Woodson. So far, the results are scant, or at least sporadic.
The Bobcats seemed to do whatever they wanted, shooting 55.3 percent from the field and leading by as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter. They dominated despite and despite losing Corey Maggette to a hamstring injury in the third quarter.
Boris Diaw paced the Bobcats with 27 points, going 12 for 15 from the field. Gerald Henderson added 24 points and made 10 of his 13 attempts. Byron Mullens, a backup center, added 16 points, mostly on jump shots.
The Knicks never seemed to be close to any of them when the ball left their fingertips.
“It takes time to be a good defensive team,” said Chandler, who helped the Dallas Mavericks become an elite defensive team last season. “We just have to dedicate ourselves to get there.”
Anthony said the Knicks were lacking a “trust factor” on defense. Chandler suggested the Knicks were “out of sync,” blowing a rotation on one possession, then exacerbating matters the next time by trying to improvise. The rushed schedule has allowed little practice time, and injuries have disrupted the Knicks’ rotation, further slowing their progress.
“No training camp, no preseason — games are just piling on us,” Chandler said, adding, “It’s almost impossible to do right now.”
Amid the gloom, there was at least some reason for excitement. The Garden echoed with chants of “Shumpert!” as he scored 18 points in just his second N.B.A. game, his first since spraining his knee Dec. 25. Shumpert dazzled with 3-pointers and swift drives, showing no ill effects from the injury, nor any discomfort with his knee brace.
Stoudemire, who had missed two games because of a sprained ankle, also came back strong, with 25 points and 12 rebounds.
Shumpert proved so critical to the Knicks’ success at both ends of the court that Coach Mike D’Antoni put him back in the game in the fourth quarter, against his better judgment. The fatigue and dehydration brought on leg cramps, forcing Shumpert out with 3 minutes 50 seconds left.
“I knew that was going to happen,” D’Antoni said, with a tone of regret. He added: “I had to get him back in there, because he was playing well. I’m just glad I didn’t hurt his knee.”
It was an unfortunate end to what had been an exhilarating evening for Shumpert and his growing legion of fans. The crowd cheered every time he checked into the game and booed when Toney Douglas was sent to replace him early in the fourth quarter.
The injury did not dampen Shumpert’s confidence. He took a pull-up jumper the first time he touched the ball, and a transition 3-pointer on his next time down the court. He drained both.
He then electrified the arena with a flying dunk attempt over Bismack Biyombo, the Bobcats’ rangy rookie forward, who fouled him to break up the play. Shumpert said his knee felt fine.
“I just felt a little step slow, a little sluggish, which will get better in time,” he said. “Other than that, we just got to pull things together.”
Jared Jeffries will probably not return until early next week, Mike D’Antoni said. Jeffries, who injured his right calf on opening day, is making steady progress, but the Knicks are exercising caution because of the nature of the injury. “We just got to make sure he doesn’t pop it again,” D’Antoni said. “Then he’s out for a while. So we’ll be overly cautious about it.” … The returns of Iman Shumpert and Amar’e Stoudemire knocked Mike Bibby and Steve Novak out of the rotation and reduced the role of Josh Harrellson to minor relief. Bibby did not play for the first time since opening day, when he was recovering from back soreness. Harrellson, who had started two games in place of Stoudemire, played just 3:28.