CHICAGO - Carmelo Anthony and Bulls guard Derrick Rose already had been declared out of the nationally televised game when TNT's Charles Barkley offered his first analysis of the night.
"My God,'' Barkley said outside the Knicks' locker room, "it's going to be awful.''
The game lacked star power but was more competitive than anyone could have predicted, and the heavily undermanned Knicks battled to the end. They were down one with less than a minute left but couldn't get key defensive rebounds in crunch time in a 103-97 loss to the Bulls Thursday night at the United Center.
The Knicks (5-23) lost for the 13th time in 14 games and have the most losses in the league (the 76ers are 2-22).
"We put forth a great battle, we truly did,'' Amar'e Stoudemire said. "We'll take a moral victory. We played hard against a team that's pretty good.''
Anthony's troublesome left knee is sore. He said he wants to try to play through the pain, but he needed last night off.
Neither the Knicks nor Anthony has ever said what is bothering him, and there has been talk that he needs surgery. Anthony, who missed a game last week because of his knee, said he aggravated it Tuesday night.
"I've had multiple people say just shut it down or just take time off,'' he said. "At the end of the day, it's hard for me to just do that right now amidst what's happening with the team. So I'm just trying to be smart about it.''
He was asked what it would take for him to shut it down.
"I don't know, man,'' he said. "I take some days off, some days it feels like I can go. Some days it feels like I have everything. It's going to be off and on like that.''
Anthony, who tested his knee at shootaround, said the Knicks "shut me down'' Wednesday and wouldn't let him practice. After a back-to-back Saturday and Sunday, the Knicks have three off days before playing the Wizards on Christmas Day.
"I'm just trying to see over the next couple of days how it reacts,'' Anthony said. "It gets frustrating not knowing what's going to happen.''
The Knicks also were without J.R. Smith (partially torn plantar fascia), Iman Shumpert (dislocated shoulder) and Andrea Bargnani (calf). In addition to Rose, who was ill, Taj Gibson (ankle) didn't play for Chicago (16-9).
The Knicks' starting lineup was Jose Calderon, Tim Hardaway Jr., Travis Wear, Stoudemire and Cole Aldrich. Stoudemire was supposed to have "a recovery day,'' but with the Knicks shorthanded, he told Derek Fisher, "There's no way I can sit this one out.''
Hardaway had 23 points but air-balled a three-pointer with 37.9 seconds left with a chance to tie. Stoudemire added 16 points and Aldrich had 13 points and 10 rebounds. Jimmy Butler scored a career-high 35 points for the Bulls. Pau Gasol had 20 and Aaron Brooks 18.
A 12-0 Chicago run put the Knicks in a 10-point hole with 7:30 to go, but they got within 98-97 on Stoudemire's jumper with 1:01 left. On the ensuing trip, Brooks threw a jump pass to Gasol for a layup that made it a three-point game with 52.9 seconds to play.
After Hardaway's missed three-pointer, the Bulls came up with two offensive rebounds, one off a missed foul shot. Gasol hit two free throws for the final points with 10.3 seconds left.
"I think we competed pretty good against a really good team with some of the guys out,'' Calderon said. "The effort was there. I think we played good basketball. Again, we couldn't finish.''