, their leading scorer, was not on the floor. Baron Davis, their only viable point guard, was nowhere to be seen. What remained was a blur of Renaldo Balkman, Steve Novak and Mike Bibby surrounding Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.
Is it any wonder the Knicks have lost three in a row and nine of their last 10 games?
The Knicks are not healthy or whole or particularly flush with talent beyond their marquee names, resulting in a record (7-13) that falls well short of the outsize expectations those names inspired. As they approach the one-third mark of the season, the Knicks are uncomfortably situated in 10th place in the Eastern Conference — a game and a half out of the playoff field.
There is time yet to reverse course, but the compressed 66-game season provides little mercy. Six games under .500 with 46 games to go is not fatal. But 10 games under .500 with 33 games left might be.
“We got to get going now,” Stoudemire said, adding: “We don’t want to get too far behind to where we got to dig out of a deep hole. We have a deep enough hole as it is now.”
Help may be on the way. Anthony is hoping to play against the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, after missing two games to rest ankle, wrist and thumb injuries. His status will be determined at the morning shootaround.
Anthony said his left wrist and right thumb had improved greatly over the last few days. The last hurdle is his right ankle, which he sprained nearly three weeks ago. He will try running Tuesday morning, for the first time in nearly a week.
“I know I can run, but it’s just a matter of me being able to cut and push off that ankle,” Anthony said, adding, “Right now it’s just getting the pop back in my ankle and getting my explosion back.”
If he cannot play Tuesday, Anthony said he would aim for Thursday, when the Knicks play the Chicago Bulls — the first game of a back-to-back-to-back set.
Davis, who is recovering from a herniated disk, is not expected to play for another week or two.
The Knicks were a sturdy 6-4 before Anthony injured his wrist and ankle Jan. 12, in the first half against Memphis. They lost that night, beginning a 10-game stretch in which Anthony was hobbled, erratic and mostly ineffective.
Of the Knicks’ last nine losses, four came without Anthony in the lineup (counting the Memphis game, when he missed the second half). In the other five, he was present but off-kilter, shooting in the low 30 percent range. Looking back, Anthony says it was a mistake to return so quickly. He initially took only one game off, at Oklahoma City, before playing in the next six.
“My ankle was a little bit worse than what I thought it was,” Anthony said. “And then playing on it that week after that really didn’t help at all.”
He added, with a tone of regret, “If I’d have took some time off, then maybe I wouldn’t be in the situation I am in right now.”
Anthony took some criticism for sitting out the last two games, at Miami and Houston, both losses. But he said the rest was necessary.
“If I can’t cut and run and jump and be explosive like I normally can, then there’s no need for me to go out there,” he said.
Without Anthony, the Knicks are bereft of scoring and talent. Stoudemire is their only other reliable scorer, and he cannot create shots for himself. And without a decent point guard to deliver the ball, Stoudemire gets few easy chances. Anthony’s absence has forced greater reliance on the bench, which might be the worst in the league.
Still, the Knicks expected to be contenders after uniting Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler, and the poor record has created a firestorm of fan antipathy, much of it directed at Coach Mike D’Antoni. There are no indications that the franchise intends to fire him, but speculation spikes with every loss.
Asked if he was worried about his job, D’Antoni said with a chuckle: “I don’t know, are you worried about yours? Welcome to the club. It’s tough out there. My focus right now is trying to get us to win.”
D’Antoni retains strong support in the locker room. Stoudemire and Chandler often articulate his message publicly, preaching belief in his system. Davis said he joined the Knicks in part to play for D’Antoni, “a coach that I love.”
Anthony has not always seen eye to eye with his coach, but he backed him Monday when someone speculated about D’Antoni’s status.
“We support Mike 100 percent,” Anthony said. “He’s here with us, we’re here with him and we’re going to roll with that.”
It is still relatively early. The bottom half of the Eastern Conference remains awful, so making the playoffs should not be a problem, provided the Knicks are healthy and whole — and with a real point guard at the helm.
“Not having Melo is tough,” D’Antoni said. “When he gets back 100 percent, then things will be better. Not great — it wasn’t great before — but it was better. And then Baron gets back, then we should be where we should be.”