- Stephen A. Smith, ESPNNewYork.com columnist
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The bad news was the Knicks were obligated to show up and play a game in Chicago on Tuesday night that they clearly weren't interested in playing. The worse news is many of us actually wasted our time watching them.
We watched no one show up to support Carmelo Anthony offensively. We witnessed no one step up to support Tyson Chandler defensively. What we also saw was the Bulls crashing the boards as if they were running drills instead of playing against an NBA opponent, yet another no-show performance from the likes of Landry Fields, Steve Novak and Jared Jeffries, and a 98-86 beatdown at the United Center that officially imperils the Knicks' postseason aspirations -- and, dare I say, the future of coach Mike Woodson.
"We didn't come to play tonight," Woodson deadpanned after the game.
"I have no idea why," Chandler added. "But I know we'd better figure it out because [Wednesday night's] game in Milwaukee is an absolute must-win."
As you looked into Chandler's eyes, gauging the urgency of his words, the first question that jumped to anyone's mind was, "Have his teammates grasped how serious matters are right now?"
The answer would be, we simply don't know.
Which means we're not sure whether the Knicks fully realize their season is on the brink.
Now how pathetic is that?
There are nine games left in this season for New York. Five are against playoff teams. And yet as the Knicks get set to embark upon the last week of this regular season, knowing their coach's job and the future tenure of some of their teammates might be on the line, they still played as pathetically as they played Tuesday night.
Without Derrick Rose (ankle), the Bulls had more fast-break points (14-10). More points in the paint (40-28). More second-chance points (25-5), and a better shooting percentage. They outrebounded the Knicks 51-33. It marked the second time in as many games Chicago pounded New York on the boards. And the worst part of it all was
"We're not worried about them or anybody else," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "The key thing for us is getting healthy. Aside from D-Rose, who's a very big deal to us, we're feeling healthier every day. We're getting ourselves together at the right time. We know the Knicks are not a joke. They're a team to be taken seriously. But last time I checked, so are we. So we'll see how it all goes down."
For the Knicks, it'll go down sooner rather than later since they're taking on the Bucks on Wednesday night. Just a game ahead of Milwaukee for the eighth and final playoff spot, the Knicks have actually found themselves competing with Milwaukee and Philadelphia for the final two spots in the Eastern Conference.
Perhaps that is good news for a few folks out there. If so, it would explain why the Knicks are so sporadic.
These kinds of things happen when there are few willing to hold you accountable.
Right now, as we look at these very mediocre Knickerbockers, evidenced by their 29-28 record, all anyone is mentioning is that Melo is coming on strong, averaging better than 26 points over the past nine games.
Few people are mentioning that Fields is starting to adopt his M.I.A. tendencies just in time for a potential playoff appearance. That Jeffries looked alarmingly weak Tuesday night. That Novak suddenly can't make shots. That Toney Douglas' confidence appears shot. Or that J.R. Smith, who's better when he simply catches and shoots, can't seem to go three shots without dribbling around like he's playing for the Harlem Globetrotters.
Does anyone really believe the Knicks can make the playoffs playing like this?
"We can't," Woodson said, elaborating specifically on his team's troubles versus Chicago on Tuesday. "Not if we play the way we played. We weren't moving the ball enough at all. We stood around too much. Didn't play the way I'm accustomed to seeing us play since I've been the head coach. Obviously, it's something we need to fix, because we're running out of time."
Finally, somebody said it.
Despite Philadelphia's recent troubles, the 76ers still have guards who like to defend and can shoot from the perimeter, along with exceptional coaching from Doug Collins. And the Bucks have given the Knicks fits all season.
But in the end, everything comes down to the Knicks' resolve. It comes down to whether the 'Bockers have what it takes to get the job done.
"I believe we do," Chandler said after the game. "I've told them as much, and I'm going to continue to stay in their ears and tell them as much. We have to win this game. Plain and simple."
It's plain, but it ain't simple.
After recording seven assists in the first quarter Tuesday, the Knicks spent the last three quarters recording a grand total of nine. The non-shooting Chicago Bulls actually shot better from beyond the arc (45 percent) than the Knicks did, and with Rose out, the aging Rip Hamilton actually dropped 18 points in the third quarter.
"Look, I'm not about to argue with you when you're right," Knicks assistant coach Darrell Walker said. "We didn't come to play [Tuesday]. We've got to do better, and we will. We're running out of time. We need to win in Milwaukee. What more can I say?"
It isn't necessary.