The first official game in the post-Starbury era for
the Knicks produced yet another look at the potential of the next generation, but also provided a reminder that there is still plenty of work to be done in this rebuilding project. The Stephon Marbury buyout on Tuesday was like the final wall coming down on the previous failed structure and the new one now has to be built brick-by-brick.
Which is pretty much what the Knicks, who shot 41.4 percent from the floor, did through most of last night's 114-109 loss to the Orlando Magic at the Garden.
But after a late show of brilliant and confident shooting by rookie Danilo Gallinari, Mike D'Antoni has some serious thinking to do about his rotation and his decision to play veterans over the precocious 20-year-old Italian.
Gallinari, who had eight points and five rebounds in 13:12 of playing time, hit all three of his shot attempts for the game, which all came in the final 1:45 and each of the Big Shot category. The biggest came on a three-pointer with 24.2 seconds left off a swing pass from Chris Duhon that brought the Knicks within 109-107.
"He shows the ability to be unfazed by anything," D'Antoni said of Gallinari. "A couple of shots that he hit at the end of the game were sweet."
But they weren't sweet enough to make him a hero because the Magic hit five of six from the free-throw line in the final 24 seconds of the game to hold off the Gallinari-led late rally.
Nate Robinson continued his torrid month of February with 32 points off the bench - (his fifth 30-plus performance in his last seven games), though he hit 11 of 26 and just 2 for 8 from downtown. Wilson Chandler had 22 of his 27 points in the second half and Al Harrington added 26 points for the Knicks (24-33).
David Lee (4 for 13) barely was able to extend his double-double streak to 21 games with 10 points and 10 rebounds, though he did not play in the final 8:53 as D'Antoni went to a lineup of shooters.
"I didn't think David was real sharp tonight," D'Antoni said. "He didn't have one of his better games. But David, you know, he's still a double-double guy."
The Knicks seemed to be trailing by at least 10 points for the entire game (they were down 25-15 after the first quarter), but managed to finally carve into the deficit late in the fourth quarter. Gallinari sat for most of the first three quarters until D'Antoni decided to put him into the game with 1:13 left in the third.
Gallinari then played 11 minutes before he had the chance to attempt a shot, but when the ball finally did come his way, he buried the first of his two threes to make it a 103-97 deficit with 1:45 left. On the next possession, Howard threw down a Turkoglu alley-oop pass and was fouled by Robinson for a three-point play - yes, Superman overcame Krypto-Nate this time around - to make it 106-97 with 1:31 left.
But Robinson hit two more free throws and Gallinari, who had watched Turkoglu score all night long off the step-back jumper, faced up against Howard and did the exact same thing - pump-fake, dribble, step-back jumper - that swished through to make it a 106-101 with :53.2 left.
The education is ongoing. As is the rebuilding project. In some cases, they are one and the same.
Notes & quotes: Larry Hughes' shooting woes continued with a 1-for-6 performance last night for two points in 15:07. Hughes has hit just four of 22 from the field in his first three games as a Knick . . . Duhon has also struggled lately - something D'Antoni called "a little bit of the February blues" - and was 0 for 6 from the floor and zero points. But he did have 10 assists in 36:33 . . . Robinson will be featured tonight on TNT's NBA broadcast in an interview with John Thompson.
76ers at Knicks
Radio: WEPN (1050)