Knicks Hoping Anthony Can Spark a Turnabout

, 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.”

Wheels Come Off for Knicks Against Rockets

Those were Coach ’s words before tip-off, when he was discussing the Knicks’ rotating door at point guard. But it soon applied to the entire rotation as the Knicks dragged through their fourth road game in five nights, in search of anyone who could score or provide a spark.

They never found one and absorbed to the , concluding a 1-3 trip that dropped the Knicks (7-13) a season-worst six games under .500.

Frustration was evident in a visitors locker room filled with long faces and low voices.

“I refuse to have a losing season like that,” Tyson Chandler said. “We have to do what it takes. I don’t care what it is. I really don’t. But I refuse. I refuse to go through a losing season like that. Like I said, we got to man up.”

Players declined to blame the schedule, fatigue or their depleted roster, although all were heavy factors on the final night of this trip. sat out his second straight game to rest ankle, wrist and thumb injuries, leaving Amar’e Stoudemire to anchor a lineup bereft of reliable scorers.

It forced D’Antoni to make some unconventional choices as the game wore on.

Jeremy Lin, a seldom-used point guard, played critical minutes for the first time, entering the game in the third quarter. Lin, Renaldo Balkman and Steve Novak — all marginal N.B.A. players — started the fourth quarter, with the Knicks trailing by 15 points.

“Anything,” D’Antoni said, when asked what he was looking for. “Just a little spark of anything.”

All the hunting and pecking went for naught, and the Rockets quickly pushed the lead to 20 points. The Knicks have lost 9 of their last 10 games, three without Anthony, increasing the heat on D’Antoni.

“We’re just playing awful,” the coach said.

The game underlined the Knicks’ alarming lack of depth, and was indicative of just how challenging D’Antoni’s task is. The Rockets won with superb efforts from their bench and from a fill-in starter, Courtney Lee, who replaced the injured Kevin Martin.

Lee (14 points) and Goran Dragic (16 points) could start for the Knicks, who continue to get virtually nothing from their starting backcourt. Landry Fields went scoreless in 18 minutes 24 seconds, missing the only two shots he took. Toney Douglas had 7 points, going 3 for 13. Houston also got 19 points from Chase Budinger, and 14 points and 11 rebounds from Jordan Hill, a former Knicks draft pick.

“Their bench killed us,” D’Antoni said. “We had a nice thing going the first half, and then their bench came in and really caught fire.”

The game was lost in the third quarter, when the Knicks scored only 14 points and fell behind by double digits. They shot 38.2 percent for the game and wasted one of Stoudemire’s better performances, a 23-point, 8-rebound effort.

Chandler was the only other Knick who brought any consistent effort, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds. He was also the Knicks’ most animated player, whether keeping possessions alive or barking at the officials and teammates (often for missing defensive assignments). He picked up a technical foul at the end of the third quarter for complaining about a noncall on his desperation shot at the buzzer.

“But for the most part, just frustrated, man,” Chandler said. “It’s tough losing, tough losing to teams you know you’re supposed to beat.”

The Knicks had left Miami late Friday night with a renewed sense of confidence after battling the Heat down to the final minutes. By Saturday, the energy and the good feelings were gone.

The Knicks hope to have Anthony back in the lineup Tuesday when they return home to play the Detroit Pistons. But there was no update on his status Saturday and no word from Anthony himself, who did not sit on the bench during the game and was not available to reporters.

It was left to Chandler and Stoudemire to try to explain another loss and to assess the state of the team.

“The only thing that’ll put a smile on my face is my kids, and my kids are not in New York,” Stoudemire said. “So it’s not a great feeling right now.”

REBOUNDS

Baron Davis probably will not make his Knicks debut for another week or two, according to people familiar with his rehabilitation. Davis, who is recovering from a herniated disk, is considered physically sound, but he is still working his way back into basketball shape after nine months of relative inactivity. Davis just began practicing last Monday, and he has been scrimmaging full court.

For the Knicks, a Delusion of Equality in Triplicate

For a fleeting moment last February, on a night built for glory and self-affirmation, and Amar’e Stoudemire beat . The symbolism was as powerful as the result.

James drove, Anthony gave chase and Stoudemire blocked a potential game-winning layup in the closing seconds, propelling the . The victory came five days after Anthony became a Knick, and it provided all the tangible justification that team officials needed for that controversial trade.

In that moment, the Knicks were the Heat’s equals, with a chorus of stars — Anthony, Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups — to match Miami’s celebrated Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. That was how the Knicks viewed it, anyway.

“One of the bigger wins of last season,” Anthony said, looking back. “It was a momentum win. It was a confidence booster for us.”

It was of course an illusion, a timely but mostly meaningless triumph. The Knicks were not the Heat’s equal then, nor are they now, as the rivals prepare to meet again Friday night.

The Heat proceeded to march to the N.B.A. finals last season, falling two victories shy of a championship. The Knicks were swept in the first round by the aging but still-potent Boston Celtics.

The Knicks have since replaced one star (Billups) with another (Tyson Chandler), in the undying belief that three stars automatically ensures championship contention. But, as they are now demonstrating nightly, not all Big Threes are created equally, or logically.

The Knicks arrived in Miami with a 7-11 record, despite the presence of two dominant scorers and a top defensive center. Their offense is bordering on incoherent. Coach Mike D’Antoni, who made a career out of his offensive ingenuity, seems flummoxed.

Anthony is struggling with wrist, thumb and ankle injuries. Stoudemire is still regaining his timing and his game legs after an off-season spent recovering from a back injury. Every role player seems to have taken a step backward.

All of these things may work themselves out in the weeks to come, and the Knicks could find their stride by the end of this hectic 66-game season. any day now, may prove to be the critical missing element, a playmaker who brings order to a chaotic offense.

But those are some pretty weighty maybes, and no team should be dependent on a 32-year-old point guard with back troubles after it invested $237 million in three stars. Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler are supposed to be the Knicks’ foundation, the equivalent of Miami’s James, Wade and Bosh; or Boston’s Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen; or the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

That is surely what James L. Dolan, the Madison Square Garden chairman, believed when he pushed through the Anthony trade last February over the objections of his basketball executives. Anthony was a marquee name and a dazzling performer who could justify big increases in ticket prices while presumably winning a few playoff games. His arrival increased sales and television ratings, so Dolan achieved that much.

But the Knicks’ Big Three do not compare to the others for basketball reasons that surely elude the Garden hierarchy. The Celtics’ partnership worked in 2007-8 because Pierce, Garnett and Allen brought different skills to the lineup — and were joined by a burgeoning fourth star, Rajon Rondo. Although James and Wade initially struggled to blend their games, the Heat thrived because James and Wade are multidimensional players who can score, pass and defend.

For all their scoring prowess, neither Anthony nor Stoudemire is so well-rounded. Anthony, who was considered James’s equal when they were drafted in 2003, has neither James’s playmaking skills nor his defensive intensity. Stoudemire is similarly lacking. Both Stoudemire and Anthony demand the ball and a lot of shots. They have rarely thrived simultaneously, each player performing his best when the other is on the bench.

These subtleties are lost on Garden officials, who seem to approach roster-building like a fantasy basketball draft, with no regard for balance, chemistry or cohesion — to say nothing of depth. The Knicks would have been better off waiting for Deron Williams or Chris Paul, but they would not have generated the buzz or the cash to pay for part of the Garden’s $800 million renovation.

Anthony’s penchant for dominating the ball has stifled D’Antoni’s fluid offense and often turned Stoudemire into a bystander. When Stoudemire repeatedly preaches that the Knicks need to “move the ball” and “buy into” D’Antoni’s system, he is referring to Anthony more than anyone.

“It works,” Stoudemire said Wednesday, after a 91-81 loss in Cleveland. “It’s proven that it works.”

Anthony’s injuries have only exacerbated matters, making him a high-volume shooter with a low success rate. He is 40 of 126 (.317) since spraining his left wrist, but he was struggling even before that, going 26 of 67 (.388) in the previous four games.

The Knicks cannot win with Anthony taking 25 to 30 shots and making only a third of them. They cannot win without the tempo and ball movement that helps role players such as Landry Fields find their rhythm. It was no coincidence that the offense flowed better at Charlotte when Anthony took only seven shots.

For now, the Knicks remain an imbalanced team, with a talented, though ill-fitting frontcourt, a flimsy backcourt and a weak bench. Like the Miami Heat, they have three stars. But they are nothing like the Miami Heat.