MINNEAPOLIS - As July gets closer, April seems to get further away for the tailspinning Knicks. They fell to the Timberwolves, 112-91, last night for their third straight loss and ninth in the last 12 games.
After an uplifting December (9-6) and a 3-0 start to January helped the Knicks get back into the Eastern Conference playoff race at 15-20, the rest of the month dropped them back to their lowest point of the season at 11 games under .500 (18-29). They were 4-15 on Dec. 2.
"Everybody," Al Harrington said before the game, "should be hitting the panic button at this point."
The team the Knicks embarrassed by 27 points at the Garden last Tuesday returned the favor. After the Knicks took an early 15-point lead, Minnesota (11-38) overpowered them in the paint (48 points) and on the boards (58-36). Kevin Love had 25 points and 11 rebounds and Al Jefferson added 22 points and 11 rebounds for the lottery-bound Timberwolves.
Wilson Chandler had 27 points and David Lee had 16 points, 11 rebounds and five assists for the Knicks, who shot 39.8 percent from the field. Danilo Gallinari had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Jared Jeffries 14 points and Chris Duhon 11.
But the most concerning part of the game - and the recent trend of losing - is how little Mike D'Antoni got out of his bench, which was without Harrington (and his 17.9 points per game) for a second straight game because of a bruised knee.
"Once we went to the bench, it seemed like the energy came out of us," D'Antoni said. "We didn't get a whole lot of play out of the bench, obviously."
Robinson was 1-for-10 from the field in 25 minutes. But more than just shooting poorly, he continued to struggle as the primary guard on the floor when Duhon goes to the bench. And Bender was scoreless without a rebound in 6:50.
"We didn't come in and make shots like we're supposed to," Bender said. "If the intensity isn't there in the first unit, we're supposed to make sure it's there with the second unit, and we didn't."
Larry Hughes was the only healthy player who didn't get off the bench for the Knicks, sitting out for a fifth straight game.
The drop-off from the starters was quite obvious throughout the game, but it was most notable when the Timberwolves closed out the third quarter with a 15-6 run to take command of a game the Knicks seemed content to give away.
The Knicks, who took a 15-0 lead against the Timberwolves in last Tuesday's blowout win, led 22-7 this time, but the offensive flow fell apart as D'Antoni went to the bench.
With the team fading from the playoff race (six games behind the Heat for the final playoff berth in the East) and D'Antoni finding no answers on his bench, he admitted the franchise is looking to the Feb. 18 trade deadline for help. Of course, as long as it fits into the 2010 Plan.
"I think we as an organization and Donnie [Walsh], they're looking all the time and trying to better the team without messing up the longterm plans," D'Antoni said. "It's a tricky thing, it's not easy to do, but we'll keep plugging, and I'm sure Donnie will keep looking and do what's necessary."