CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Once again, Carmelo Anthony had one of the best seats in the house for the first four minutes of the fourth quarter.
And once again, it left you scratching your head and wondering: Why on earth is Carmelo Anthony sitting?
The New York Knicks continued sliding into the abyss Saturday night against the second-worst offensive team in the NBA (although you wouldn't have known it), their losing streak stretching to six games as a fourth-quarter comeback spearheaded by Anthony came up short in a 114-106 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats.
One of these days, coach Mike D'Antoni needs to stop changing his starting lineups for the first quarter and start looking at adjusting who is on the floor to start the fourth quarter.
And he needs to put Melo out there for all 12 of those final 12 minutes.
From the way D'Antoni spoke of it afterward, it at least seems he's considering it.
"I just want to be careful because Amare [Stoudemire] has gone through a little bit where we used him a lot to get in this position, and now Melo the same way. He played a lot of minutes at Denver, and he's played a lot of minutes [since the trade], and it's kind of a balancing act," D'Antoni said. "I don't want to give him too much time, but at the same time I don't just want to wear him out."
Anthony had his highest-scoring game since joining the Knicks, scoring 10 of his 36 points in his 7:38 of fourth-quarter playing time. The Knicks trailed by 15 when he checked back in, got the deficit to four with 1:34 remaining (it would have been three if Landry Fields had hit the second of two free throws), then didn't score a point the rest of the way.
"I know a loss is a loss, and it is what it is, but I'm more encouraged than I was yesterday," D'Antoni said.
As for Anthony, he reacted to questions about his playing time out of both sides of his mouth, at first saying has no desire to play more than 40 minutes, then changing his tune and saying he'd play 48 minutes if he had to, if it would help stop the bleeding.
"I'll take my minutes how they come. I'm human, I do get tired," Anthony said. "I've been in this league for a long time, and playing 40-plus minutes is something I don't want to do. So if that's my time to take a break, then so be it."
Anthony played nearly 41 minutes in this one, getting nearly three minutes of rest at the start of the second quarter, then playing the entire third quarter before watching from the bench as Bill Walker, Shawne Williams and Anthony Carter combined to miss four 3-pointers and the Knicks scored only six points, four of them on free throws, before he checked back in.
Anthony then knocked down two 3-pointers to get the Knicks back in the game, but having to come all the way back from an early 20-point deficit proved too steep of a hill for them to climb.
So not only have they matched their longest losing streak of the season, they've also dropped nine of 10 to fall three games below .500 with just a 3½-game lead over the eighth-place Indiana Pacers, who also lost Saturday night.
"We have a lot of talent, but talent isn't everything. Camaraderie, cohesiveness and being a good team beats talent every day of the week, and when we get to the point where we get that, combined with the talent, we're going to be a very dangerous team. But talent isn't everything," Chauncey Billups said.
Changing the starting lineup, replacing Fields with Toney Douglas, did not have the desired effect as Douglas shot poorly and did not do a good job defending D.J. Augustin. For the second straight night, D'Antoni switched his starters for the beginning of the second half, going back to Fields ahead of Douglas and using Shelden Williams at center (Ronny Turiaf was out with a sore ankle) after giving Shawne Williams the starting spot for the opening tip.
But again, this slump has featured some dreadful fourth quarters -- big leads that have been blown, comebacks that have come up short.
And so D'Antoni was asked, would he be willing to play Anthony for the entire fourth quarter going forward?
His answer was part hem, part haw.
"If I could I'd play him 48, so I just have to be careful with him. I don't want to do something that I'm not ready to do yet. We've got some home games coming up and he might have to play a lot because those are games that are going to be really important. "
Memo to Mike: These games right here and now are important, too, because your team's confidence level is slipping, and there are only nine more left before the postseason arrives.
If the momentum can't be swung back in a more positive direction, the playoffs will be lost before they even begin because of the mental state of the team.
And if it takes four more minutes of playing time for Anthony to snap the team out of its funk, it has to be done. The Knicks didn't trade for Anthony because he looks good watching from the bench. They got him because he is a player.
So play him, and play him when it counts most.