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NEW YORK -- Shelden Williams had the ball in his hands and didn't know what to do with it, holding it high above his head near the foul line as three defenders and six hands converged on him.
Predictably, the ball got poked away, Brandon Jennings went down to the other end and knocked down two of his season-high 37 points, and the bleeding continued.
What made the sequence noteworthy were two things:
• In a stretch of 12 fourth-quarter possessions, it was the only one on which the New York Knicks did not attempt a shot. On the other 11 possessions, all their shots were misses.
• Shelden Williams was on the court in crunch time. When was the last time that sentence was written?
|Amare Stoudemire says the Knicks don't show enough fight. Mike D'Antoni says his players hang their heads. Both men are right.|
Amid choruses of boos that began in the first quarter and resurfaced in the fourth, the Knicks' slide continued Friday night with a 102-96 loss against the Milwaukee Bucks, the same opponents who were in the building a little more than a month ago when Carmelo Anthony got a hero's welcome in his debut game for New York.
Their losing streak now at five games, the Knicks are at a low point that has left them shell shocked.
"Everything is so hard. It's so not fluid. It's almost like mud in your engine. We're just chugging, and it's tough to play that way," said coach Mike D'Antoni, who might or might not have heard the faint "Fire D'Antoni!" chant that was struck up in the (relatively) cheap seats as the final seconds ticked off.
"We just don't have a presence out there," D'Antoni said. "And I think we're tight down the fourth. As soon as something goes wrong, we hang our heads."
The head-hanging was at its worst during that stretch of 11 straight missed shots and that one turnover by Williams, who was one of two seldom-used players D'Antoni turned to in an effort to get a lift out of somebody, anybody, to break the team's collective funk.
Anthony Carter was the other player who came off the end of the bench as D'Antoni made a desperate effort to slow Jennings, who said afterward that he always plays well against the Knicks because he will always remember them passing over him in the 2009 draft to select Jordan Hill.
But back to that fourth quarter.
The Knicks shot just 6-for-24, went 1-for-8 on 3-pointers and did not allow the Bucks to grab a single offensive rebound but still looked just plain lost. Williams played 6½ minutes, which was 45 seconds more than Anthony played as D'Antoni continued his practice of keeping Anthony in his warm-ups at the start of the final period.
Carter also played nearly 6½ minutes. Shawne Williams played 5½ minutes (and missed both of his shots). Anthony shot just 1-for-4 (as did Chauncey Billups), and Amare Stoudemire missed consecutive shots with the Knicks trailing by three points during that stretch of 11 consecutive misses, a span in which the score remained Bucks 91, Knicks 88 for more than three minutes.
"We have to fight more. We have to put more effort on the court. We have to want these games. We haven't done nothing yet," Stoudemire said. "We're not in the playoffs right now. We're the seventh seed, but the way we are going, we are declining."
Declining is indeed the proper word, with the Knicks having now dropped eight of nine to fall two games below .500 for the first time since they were 6-8 on Nov. 20. They now have to prepare for their sixth and final back-to-back set of the month as they play Saturday night in Charlotte against the Bobcats, who spread some of the panic around the Northeast Corridor by knocking off the Celtics in Boston on Friday night to end a five-game losing streak of their own.
"Nobody said it was going to be easy. We are losing games, but it's a process," Anthony said. "At the end of the day, we just need that one to get the monkey off our backs and stop the bleeding."
The Knicks never led in this game, falling behind by 10 points just 4:08 into the first quarter and failing to get their deficit below five points until Toney Douglas made a 3-pointer 74 seconds into the fourth quarter to make it 84-82.
It was a one-point game, 87-86, when Shelden Williams missed a 16-foot jumper with 8:03 remaining (and Anthony still watching from the bench), and Jennings scored Milwaukee's next 14 points to make it a 10-point game with just more than two minutes left.
The crowd let the Knicks hear it at that point, and it was the polar opposite of the "Me-lo" chants and the raucous cheers the fans emitted the last time the Bucks came to town.
Back then, there was hope.
Now, there is despair.
And there are no easy solutions, as evidenced by D'Antoni experimenting with a two-point guard alignment for nearly all of the final 37 minutes, using Shelden Williams as his fourth-quarter center, and refusing to play Anthony and Stoudemire together for the entire 12 minutes of the fourth quarters when the Knicks keep failing to get the job done.