DENVER - Eventually a slump becomes a standard. Perhaps Chris Duhon's strong first half last season was the exception rather than the rule. If that's the case, what he's shown in most of the calendar year of 2009 - especially in these first 15 games of the season - should be cause for concern for the Knicks, whose anemic offense has had them on the ropes well before Dec. 1.
"I'm worried about it now,'' Mike D'Antoni said. "I think he's worried. I'm worried. But he's the guy that can get up to a level that can bring us back. And we're going to stick there until you can't stick anymore. I'm sticking with him.''
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D'Antoni said he won't bench Duhon because "he's our best option'' at the point guard position. This is said only after the franchise opted not to sign Allen Iverson and hand the offense - read: the ball - over to him. How fatal that decision was to this season remains painfully evident with every shot that Duhon misses and every bounce pass on a pick-and-roll that he throws too low or off the foot of a teammate.
Just imagine how it feels to be Duhon, who seemed so comfortable running the offense last season and now looks lost. Add to that the indignity of being left open - the Lakers didn't even bother to cover him on the perimeter Tuesday - and yet he still was not able to knock down a single three-pointer in five mostly wide-open attempts. The next night in Sacramento, Duhon missed six of seven shots from downtown.
"It's tough,'' Duhon said. "I think I just keep adding it on and keep piling it on each game. I think about it too much instead of just playing. It's just something I've got to get through. It's something new for me. But you've got to find a way.''
Duhon takes an unsightly 24.1 shooting percentage (19.4 percent from three-point range) into tonight's game against the Nuggets in the final game of what has been a demoralizing three-game West Coast swing. The previous three games - wins over the Pacers and Nets and a competitive overtime loss to the Celtics - showed some promise of the Knicks, who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday, coming out of their doldrums, but now they've gone backward.
Duhon isn't the only Knick struggling with his shot. Wilson Chandler has been a disaster and Al Harrington's touch comes and goes as randomly as Nate Robinson's attention span. Danilo Gallinari is the team's best shooter, but he disappears for large segments of games.
But it all goes back to Duhon, the floor general and the most important player on the floor. Only Duhon has the proven ability to run an offense so the entire team can be effective. And when he's not doing that, it's painfully obvious.
"It makes it doubly hard because you see it,'' D'Antoni said. "Other people can kind of hide, get through it and not be that big of a factor. But the point guard, that's a tough position and it's probably our key position.''