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A potentially big night comes up short

The Knicks started the shortest front line in the NBA, with 6-8 Wilson Chandler at power forward and 6-9 David Lee at center. It was one of their shortest 4-5 combinations since Willis Reed lined up next to Dave DeBusschere.

And we'll stop the comparisons right there.

It looked like it was going to be a memorable night at the Garden where the cathartic crowd rocked the old building with so much energy that the old banners were billowing in the rafters. Tracy McGrady's debut was impressive, until his legs gave out, which is to be expected of someone who hasn't played any real NBA minutes in over a year. Two other newcomers, Eddie House and Sergio Rodriguez, provided a new dynamic off the bench. House springs into his jumper quicker than a cricket's leap, while Rodriguez is the complete opposite of the term ball-stopper. The thing is constantly in motion when he's in the game and it's a welcome sight.

Mike D'Antoni had himself a solid nine-man rotation that seemed to click and had no trouble not only scoring the ball but sharing it (26 team assists). Makes you wonder what this group might have done if there wasn't what equates to a college conference schedule remaining in the season. Down eight games with 28 left to play leaves very little hope.

But don't waste your energy on this. While a healthy McGrady -- finally, there's a go-to guy in the house -- makes a world of difference and a stretch player like House and a ball-mover like Rodriguez changes the complex of the team, one major issue remains that keeps this team from being legit.

It's something the Chicago Bulls exposed before the trade deadline and the Oklahoma City Thunder exploited after it. Interior defense.

Here is where the Knicks will miss Jared Jeffries. Lee had three blocked shots last night, which is a terrific number for him, especially as an undersized center. But overall the Thunder scored 56 points in the paint and made 28 of their 43 field goals from there. Russell Westbrook, a guard, drove down the lane like Dale Jr. on that final lap in Daytona last Sunday, only Russell broke through at will for a 31 point night.

How does he get to the rim, however, on that drive with 26.9 seconds left in regulation to cut the Knicks' lead down to 103-102? That mouthly sophomore should have met George Kalinsky along photographer's row before he even had a chance to get the ball off his hip. Earn those two at the stripe and think twice the next time you think you got a step.

But that's just not the mentality here. Maybe if this summer doesn't produce a LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or even a Chris Bosh, and McGrady is the best they can get, the Knicks should consider giving Shaquille O'Neal a short-term contract. Shaq's proven he can still be an effective player, but more importantly, his presence alone would be a much-needed dose of Enzyte to this Knicks team, if you know what I mean. Pause.

For the time being, the empty roster spot vacated by the Brian Cardinal buyout could be used to bring in some size this season (ironic, since Cardinal was acquired for 7-footer Darko Milicic, who is the Michael Jordan of apathy).

The Knicks could offer the veteran's minimum to a player who gets bought out in the next week or two -- while LeBron may do it this summer, I don't see Zydrunas Ilgauskas spurning the Cavs to play in New York -- or simply find someone in the D-League. Right now, Jonathan Bender is the only 7-footer on the roster. D'Antoni gave him 12:39 and he recorded a blocked shot, along with five points and three rebounds.

Oh and now that the trade deadline is over and the excavation is seemingly over, don't think Donnie Walsh is going to light up a cigar and sit back for July 1. With two second round picks, he's ordered his scouting staff to know every single available player -- in the U.S. and overseas -- in the 2010 draft. Walsh wants to find a sleeper, if not two, and get something out of a draft that will see this team's first round pick, likely a lottery choice, handed over to the Utah Jazz (that's another reason why winning as many games before this season is over is so crucial...no one in this organization wants that pick to be worth a damn).

Walsh said there was another time in his career when he didn't have a first round pick, but only two second rounders. He told his staff the same thing, to leave no stone unturned and find hidden gems. That was 1990, when the Indiana Pacers selected Antonio Davis 45th overall and Kenny Williams at 46th.

Williams, a high school phenom who never wound up playing college ball, stuck around for a few years but didn't pan out. But Davis turned out pretty darn good.

In fact, the Knicks could use someone just like him right now.

New York Sports