Schedule allows Knicks to see light at end of tunnel

Amar'e Stoudemire #1 and J.R. Smith #8 of

Amar'e Stoudemire #1 and J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks enter a game against the Charlotte Bobcats in the first half at Madison Square Garden on Friday, October 25 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

The Knicks are nine games under .500 and still very much in the dark space Carmelo Anthony talked about, but suddenly it appears they see a speck of light.

The mood in the Knicks' locker room after Friday night's two-point loss in Denver was surprisingly optimistic and upbeat. Maybe the Knicks were happy to be going home, or maybe they believed they made progress on the 0-4 trip by charging back from nine down with 1:43 left and having a last-second shot to tie the score.

Anthony missed, but from the looks on the Knicks' faces and what they said, you never would have thought they lost for the eighth straight time.

"We're not playing too badly," Mike Woodson said. "We're playing in spurts. We got to get to where we're not playing catch-up basketball and teams are trying to catch up to us."

J.R. Smith added: "We fought hard. I was impressed with our team."

It would be more impressive if the Knicks ended their longest losing skid since February 2010 and started stringing some wins together. You'd think coming home would help. But the Knicks were winless at Madison Square Garden in November, dropping all six games there.

Still, if the Knicks seriously believe they made strides and turned the proverbial corner, this is the time to prove it and make their move with the schedule getting much easier in December.

Seven of the Knicks' next 12 games are at home, starting Sunday night against the New Orleans Pelicans. The five road games in that span are at Brooklyn, Cleveland, Boston, Milwaukee and Orlando. Those teams started Saturday a combined 35 games under .500. Only two of the 12 games are against teams that were .500 or better as of Saturday.

Sometime in this stretch, Tyson Chandler is expected to return from a broken right leg, which will be a big boost for a team missing its paint protector and best rebounder. But Chandler believes the Knicks can make a run without him.

"I really feel like we can easily put together a nice winning streak, big-time winning streak," Chandler said. "You win eight out of 10 games or so and we'll be in first place in our division. I think it's definitely possible. Everything seems so bad right now and the whole world and everything is weighing on you. It's not. Things can easily be turned around."

The Knicks, of course, can't afford to have poor starts and fall behind by double-digits in the first half. That has been the norm this season. They also need to get more consistent play from Smith, Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton.

Overall, the Knicks' backcourt has been a major disappointment this season. Shumpert had one of his better games in more than two weeks when he scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds in Denver. But Smith continues to misfire.

Last year's Sixth Man of the Year shot 10-for-30, including 2-for-11 from three-point range, and totaled 24 points in the final three games of the trip. Smith, who had major offseason surgery on his left knee, said his knee is bothering him "somewhat." But he said he won't use it as an excuse.

"I got to play better," he said. "If it's hurting that bad, I shouldn't be playing. I'm out there trying to give all that I got.

"My jumper hasn't been there. That's a situation where I have to make my teammates better, get guys open shots, keep driving to the hole -- but one thing I'm not going to do is stop shooting."

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