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.”

Knicks Hoping Anthony Can Play Against Magic

Anthony sprained his right ankle and his left wrist Thursday in Memphis, then sat out Saturday’s game in Oklahoma City. The Knicks lost both games by double digits.

Anthony participated in a team walk-through Sunday and afterward told reporters that he would try to play on Monday, when the Knicks host the in a matinee. Officially, the Knicks are calling Anthony questionable.

Anthony ran on an underwater treadmill Sunday and planned to run on the court later in the day, according to a team spokesman. If he has no setbacks, he will test the ankle again Monday morning before seeking clearance to play.

The Knicks could also be welcoming Baron Davis to the lineup soon. Davis has increased his activity in recent days and may begin practicing as soon as next week, Coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters. Davis, who signed with the Knicks in December, has been rehabilitating a herniated disk for several months.

The Knicks (6-6) had won four straight games before Anthony limped away last week. But three of those victories came against teams with losing records, and they have struggled to beat the league’s top teams. They are 2-3 against teams that made the playoffs last season.

The Magic are 8-3, despite the uncertainty surrounding their star center, Dwight Howard, who has requested a trade.

The Knicks’ progress has been slowed by roster turnover and by injuries to Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert. They have started three players at point guard, going from Toney Douglas to Shumpert to Mike Bibby. D’Antoni is undecided on who will start against the Magic.

Eventually, Davis is expected to take over the point-guard duties, which should smooth out the offense and, in effect, give the Knicks a deeper bench, with Shumpert or Landry Fields moving to a backup role.

Knicks Take Down Division-Leading 76ers

Yet playing only their 10th game of this lockout-shortened season and just their second opponent with a winning record, the passed it Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

With defense. And despite subscribing to their own version of Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan down the stretch on offense: nine turnovers and nine missed shots from the floor in the last nine minutes.

The Knicks’ defense, though, held the fort in an 85-79 victory over the , who had won six straight to storm to the top of the Atlantic Division but were also playing for the third straight night and the fifth time in six days.

So, unlike the Knicks, who got a day off after beating a third straight sub-500. opponent Monday (Charlotte), the 76ers had reason to be cooked.

Instead, they tested Coach ’s team sternly, wiping out all but 2 points of a 16-point first-half deficit before the end of the third quarter, then all but 4 of a subsequent 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter, mostly because of their league-best defense.

But after slapped a tourniquet on the Knicks’ third-quarter wounds, scoring 10 points in one stretch, the defense bailed out the home team.

It held the 76ers, third in the league in scoring, to more than 22 points less than their average of 101.6 points per game. It stood firm in those final nine minutes, during which the Knicks managed only seven free throws.

“We’re starting to buckle down on the defensive end,” Anthony said. “We’re starting to trust one another. We’re having each other’s backs out there.”

Plus, he said, he and his teammates are following the defensive lead of the rookie Iman Shumpert, whose 5-for-15, 10-point, 3-assist, 4-turnover line didn’t measure his contribution to the Knicks’ fourth straight victory.

“Iman puts a lot of pressure on the ball and he can do a lot of things,” D’Antoni said.

“What he’s bringing to the game right now, believe it or not, we’re feeding off of him, as a rookie,” Anthony said. “For me to say that, that says a lot.”

D’Antoni said: “Other guys are buying in. For us to win, they have to keep that intensity where it is and we will get the offense right.”

Anthony, who needed 24 shots to score 27 points, concurred, although the offensive ineptitude was not a surprise against a team that entered the night with the league’s best scoring and field-goal defense, allowing 85.6 points per game on 39.2 percent shooting.

But it was the Knicks’ defense that surprised 76ers Coach Doug Collins, who called it “the best defense I’ve seen them play. It’s not anywhere near what I saw from the three games I watched prior. This was a totally different team tonight that we played against than what I saw on tape.”

Still, the Knicks had to again win ugly. After a dunk by Amar’e Stoudemire (20 points, 10 rebounds) on a Shumpert feed with 9 minutes 2 seconds left gave the Knicks a 17-point lead, the offense bumbled and stumbled to the finish line.

The defense, however, hung on to produce the Knicks’ first victory against a winning team this season. They lost Dec. 29 in Los Angeles, 99-82, to the Lakers.

“It only matters because Philly’s playing well,” D’Antoni said of the victory’s significance. “They’re in our division, so it counts as two. But it’s only our 10th game.”

The Knicks did keep Philadelphia from becoming only the second team this season to sweep a three games-in-three-nights stretch. Oklahoma City (where the Knicks play Saturday) did it Jan. 6-8.

“We’ve got to get our offense better than that,” D’Antoni said. “We can’t keep the game in the 70s and think that we’re doing what’s right. We can get a lot better offensively — and we will.”

Anthony said: “Nothing is easy. We’re winning games, they’re ugly wins, we’ll take it.

“I’m not too concerned about the offensive end. I’m more proud of what we’re doing on the defensive end, stopping guys.”

REBOUNDS

Landry Fields, the second-year Knicks guard who has struggled with his shot this season, making 19.2 percent of his 3-point attempts, began the game as the Knicks’ top plus-minus player at plus 48. The rookie big man Josh Harrellson was second at plus 47. … The veteran big man Jared Jeffries confirmed what Mike D’Antoni had been saying. If he does not have a setback with the right calf injury that has sidelined him since the season opener, Jeffries expects to play Saturday. … Philadelphia played without the starting center Spencer Hawes, who has a lower back injury.