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.

Knicks Fall to Bobcats, 118-110, Despite Return of Stoudemire

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.”

REBOUNDS

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.