GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Even before needing five stitches above his left eye, Carmelo Anthony understood this could be painful.
Though the New York Knicks envisioned themselves as a dangerous team after trading for him, instead they’re two games under .500 since making the deal. And the more time they spend together, the worse they’ve played.
A team with Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, the NBA’s second-highest scoring duo, running Mike D’Antoni’s system, has endured three straight subpar offensive games, and offense is supposed to be the Knicks’ strong suit.
Yet as they reach the one-month anniversary of his arrival, Anthony says these struggles weren’t a surprise, and he still believes there is time for the Knicks to get past them.
“That’s something that I keep telling myself, I keep telling the guys on the team, that at the end of the day it’s going to get to where we want it to be at. And I’m not really too concerned about that,” Anthony said Tuesday after practice, his eye looking a little puffy after what he said was the first time he needed stitches.
“I’m confident in that, I’m positive about making that happen, making this whole thing work, and for the most part I know we’re losing games right now, but everybody seems like their energy is up, nobody is bowing their heads and feeling sad about anything because everybody knows this wasn’t going to be easy. This is a long road to get where we want to be at.”
It’s been much bumpier than anyone could have guessed.
New York fell to 7-9 since acquiring Anthony with Monday’s 96-86 loss to the Boston Celtics, when he was cut after colliding with Rajon Rondo while trying to steal a pass. The Knicks have dropped six of seven and at 35-35, will have a losing record for the first time since November if they lose Wednesday to an Orlando team that has already beaten them twice this season.
The Knicks talked of moving up to the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but instead have fallen behind Philadelphia into seventh after they held the No. 6 spot for more than three months.
A losing record is the norm in New York this time of year, with the Knicks in a franchise-worst stretch of nine straight losing seasons. But they have bigger goals this season, and they insist those plans are still intact.
“It really boils down to do you have a choice, and we don’t have a choice,” Stoudemire said. “You have to get it ready for the playoffs if you want to make things special out of this year.”
They have at times looked capable, rallying to beat the Heat in Miami in the third game after the trade, and blowing out likely playoff teams New Orleans and Atlanta.
New York was 6-3 with Anthony after his game-winning jumper at Memphis on March 9, but was routed at Dallas the next night before getting swept in a home-and-home series by eighth-place Indiana. Following a victory over the Grizzlies last week, the Knicks have dropped three straight, all in shockingly poor offensive performances for a team that ranks second in the league with 106.2 point s per game.
Anthony was 2 of 12 for six points in a loss at Detroit on Friday, and the Knicks then managed only nine points in the first quarter of a loss at Milwaukee on Sunday. Just as they were in position to beat the Celtics on Monday, neither Anthony nor Stoudemire managed a field goal in the fourth quarter and the Knicks totaled just 35 points in the second half.
“You have to understand what we’re trying to accomplish in the fourth quarter and right now, there’s not a clear understanding and we’re trying to clear it up,” D’Antoni said.
“Again, when it gets to the fourth quarter, you get pressure on people, you get a little fatigue on people’s legs, you revert back and you kind of hold the ball, you’re not quite sure what to do. It’s almost paralysis by analysis. You’re trying to figure it out and you’re not going anywhere, and I do think that’ll clear up.”
The Knicks cite plenty of reasons for their problems: A thigh injury to Chauncey Billups cost him six games after he averaged 23.3 points in the first four after coming with Anthony from Denver, and the March schedule is heavy on games but short on practice time.
Soon comes their first playoff berth since 2004, which seems assured thanks to the big cushion they built when they were playing well.
“We have a little bit under a month to get this thing right to get ready for the playoffs and right now we’re just figuring it out on the go,” Anthony said. “As long as we figure it out by the time them playoffs come, I’m not really too concerned about what’s going on right now or how it’s going on. Losing games can be a little bit frustrating at times, but that happens, especially wh en you’re trying to get things right and trying to get everybody on the same page.”
The Knicks have watched the Nuggets’ much smoother transition, but they knew the trade could set them back in the short term.
“We’ve just got to keep our focus on getting to the playoffs, getting this right and then making a run in the playoffs,” D’Antoni said. “And that’s our focus.”