Stoudemire is the model of consistency in this rickety season, supplying points and filling a leadership void. Those commendable assets were missing Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Stoudemire scored 13 points — his fewest as a Knick — under a blur of missed shots and opportunities. The Knicks otherwise remained the same. They played capably for three quarters, collapsed badly and rallied late against the .
The outcome dropped the Knicks (35-36) below .500 for the first time in four months, long before the addition of turned from fantasy to reality. On Wednesday, the “Me-lo” chants that greeted Anthony melted into boos that cemented another loss.
“I mean it’s not good,” Coach said of the team’s record. “But that’s not going to define the season. We’ve got to get into the playoffs, whatever it takes.”
The against the and the . They are in , three and a half games ahead of eighth-place Indiana and six and a half in front of Milwaukee and Charlotte with only 11 games remaining. But with their recent struggles, the games this week assume an added importance in maintaining a buffer to avoid a full collapse.
Both D’Antoni and Stoudemire attributed the lackluster performance to too many games in too many nights while trying to refashion a roster on the fly. The Knicks will play 18 games in March, and Wednesday was their 14th this month.
“I thought he had heavy legs tonight,” D’Antoni said of Stoudemire. “He didn’t have the balance that he normally has.”
The Knicks can self-diagnose the issues that have led to four straight losses and seven in their last eight games. They have not solved the problem of weary legs or their fourth-quarter deficiencies, and the team failed to top 100 points for the fourth straight game.
The Knicks are also presented with a two-headed problem. The schedule-packed month is allowing for little practice time or rest. On the rare off days, they choose one or the other. After scheduling practice for Thursday, the Knicks canceled it after the loss.
Stoudemire said he started feeling tired in the first quarter, but he resurfaced in the fourth quarter, when he scored four of his six baskets. Orlando started the fourth-quarter with an 11-4 run to distance itself after leading by 79-78 at the start.
Stoudemire followed a dunk with a layup that he could have transformed into a 3-point play to cut the Knicks’ deficit to 3 points with just over six minutes to play. Later, he scored two quick baskets on assists from Anthony to bring the Knicks to 103-98 with 2 minutes 23 seconds left.
That would stand as the Knicks’ final field goal. Anthony missed a shot, and made his last six free throws to seal the game’s outcome. Howard delivered another solid performance with 33 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks. All five of Orlando’s starters scored at least 12 points.
“I think he kind of rushed a little bit tonight to get his shot off,” Howard said of Stoudemire. “He wasn’t as patient. That happens, and right now I understand that the team is under a lot of pressure.”
Stoudemire’s performance was hardly predictable, but his point total had taken a downturn in recent games. In the previous five, Stoudemire had averaged 19.6 points, about 6 points under his season average.
“I don’t think I’ve played in a month this hectic in probably my career,” Stoudemire said. “So it’s putting a toll on us a little bit.”
The outcome negated one of Anthony’s most well-rounded games since his arrival from the . He made quick decisions with the ball that led to nine assists, his most in more than two years. Anthony also had 24 points and 5 rebounds.
“Carmelo is my toughest matchup,” Orlando’s Quentin Richardson said. “Nobody has the midrange, 17-foot game like he does. When I saw Bernard King tonight, I was like, ‘He plays a lot like him.’ ”
Anthony played as King, his childhood idol and a former Knick, watched. But Anthony and the rest of the Knicks continued to fail as the game grew late. The Knicks missed 14 of their 21 shots in the fourth quarter. Anthony had one shot attempt in the quarter, along with four free throws.
In the four recent losses, he is just 2 for 13 in the fourth quarter with 14 points. Chauncey Billups, who helped the Knicks construct an 8-point lead in the second quarter, scored just 2 points after producing 15 in the first half. Toney Douglas was the only other Knick in double digits, with 17 points off the bench.
“It seems like when we get down, we panic a little bit,” Anthony said. “That just comes from not being aware of one another out there on the court, not being used to each other in the fourth quarter, down the stretch. But that’s going to come.”
He added: “I don’t think there’s no fun in the game right now. I think that’s something that we need to get back in the game.”