NEW YORK — If you are a Knicks fan and your highs and lows are determined by how your team fares, you are not going to feel better after reading this column. But read it you must.
Amare Stoudemire made an inglorious return to the court Tuesday night on the second day of the new year, missing every shot he took in a first half in which he looked old, slow and lost. It was brutal.
The weird thing was, the fans gave him a standing ovation when he stepped onto the court as the fourth reserve off the bench (Ninth Man?), they seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief when he left the game with 10 minutes remaining, clearly out of gas, and they watched a spirited comeback fall short because Mike Woodson made the mistake of having Pablo Prigioni (instead of Ronnie Brewer) on the court to defend Damian Lillard on the key possession of the game, a step back 3-pointer by Lillard with 35 seconds left that gave Portland a six-point lead.
Even weirder, and perhaps even disturbing, was the way Stoudemire reacted to the loss. He was nonchalant. He was borderline giddy over the greeting he received from the fans, he talked over and over about butterflies and how the game seemed to be played at 100 mph.
If the loss bothered him, it was impossible to tell.
Maybe it’s just me, but if I am a fan of a team that is battling the Miami Heat (and the Atlanta Hawks!) for first place in the Eastern Conference, I don’t want to see one ounce of satisfaction out of a team that has lost the defensive intensity it played with early in the season.
I don’t want to take a moral victory out of the fact that Stoudemire is finally back on the court, and I don’t want to have blind faith in the idea that he and Carmelo Anthony will eventually find a way to play together in a complementary way.
I’d prefer to see a little outrage after dropping yet another game the Knicks should have won. But rage was conspicuously absent in the locker room afterward.
Maybe it was because of the feedback Stoudemire received from his veteran teammates — the “older men” in the locker room, as Stoudemire called them.
“I was nervous. my heart was beating fast, I had butterflies in my stomach and felt I was a rookie all over again,” Stoudemire said. “My veteran guys said it takes about 5 to 10 games to get back to where you were before. So if I take those guys advice, that sounds about right. But hopefully it’ll be sooner than that.
The Knicks are back in action Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs, and by then it will have been nearly three weeks since they put together back-to-back wins. This loss gave them just their second two-game losing streak of the season, but it dropped them another game behind the Heat in the all-important loss column — the one part of the NBA standings they should be keeping an eye on each and every day.
Let’s face it — every team is going to have off nights like the one the Knicks had on Tuesday. Heck, the Miami Heat have a night like this once or twice a week, though they often find ways to win those games down the stretch.
With the Knicks, it’s a whole different equation.
The Knicks are the team that should be playing with a fire in their belly, a team that should be striving to show that November was not the same type of “fools’ gold” that Chris Paul said the Clippers just experienced by going undefeated through the month of December.
There are no throwaway games when you are built specifically to defeat the Heat behind your abundance of experienced veteran big men, and when the highest-paid guy in that bunch doesn’t even seem the least bit upset by what was, by his standards, a horrid performance, you begin to wonder …
Have the Knicks peaked already?
Has the 3-point shooting slump that so many predicted finally come to fruition? Is the defensive success inextricably tied to having Raymond Felton on the court (in large part to keep Jason Kidd and Progioni off it when an opposing playmaker needs to be shut down?)