David Lee shook his head and forced a grin. Only in New York, he said, will a player get criticized after putting up 23 points, 18 rebounds and two blocked shots.

But the number that leaped off the stat sheet in Friday's 102-96 loss to the Raptors here in Toronto was the 62 points in the paint the Raptors scored -- and that was with Chris Bosh out of the lineup because of a stomach flu.

It's been an issue all season, something Mike D'Antoni has lived with because of what Lee has been able to do on the boards and on the offensive end as an all-star this season. But even D'Antoni seemed disturbed by it tonight, when Toronto got to the rim on several occassions down the stretch to put the Knicks away.

"We didn't stop 'em and I didn't think we had the necessary gumption to get up in 'em, get a little man-to-man and stop 'em," D'Antoni said, placing the blame on the lack of perimeter defense more than the absence of anything at the rim.

D'Antoni did address that part a little later when he said, "We don't have a lot of resistance. That's a little bit our size. We're a little size-challenged down there, but at that point you've got to take a challenge and I don't think we took the challenge of stopping them."

Lee pointed to his statistics -- 15 defensive rebounds, for one -- and said "I do all I can out there . . . At 6-9 playing center, I do the best I can to contest shots down there. I can't be there for every shot. I do my best and I guess that's all I can do at 6-9."

I asked Lee if he ever considered putting a stop to the green line down the lane by offering up a hard foul early in a game to send somewhat of a message -- not only to the opponent but to his own teammates who are letting people by.

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"I guess one of us could do that," he said. "You got a Charles Oakley think going there or something? I don't know what to say to that. Then we get two or three fouls on me and then we have 6-7 playing the five, and they continue driving the ball.

"I definitely see your point," he continued, "and I'm not opposed to that. But, you're right, it's definitely a weakness of our defense, it's a weakness of our team, that we're not big at that position."

It's probably kind of too little, too late at this point. Lee had much better support when 6-10 Jared Jeffries was on the team and playing next to him in the frontcourt. But with Jeffries gone, Lee has 6-8 Wilson Chandler and 6-9 Al Harrington (who contests even less than Lee) as his paint partners. Eddy Curry, a 7-footer, will be back in the lineup next week (expected to play against the Spurs in San Antonio on Wednesday), but even at full health Curry was hardly much of a defensive presence.

It's obviously an area the Knicks will have to address this summer with free agency (or trades).

As the questions about the interior defense and the points-in-the-paint allowed continued, Lee then said, "If you're looking for somebody to blame, I guess you can blame me for the defense. I'm doing my best down there at 6-9 and I'm going to continue to try to get better and control the paint better and it is what it is.  A lot of times I'm playing against a guy that is five or six inches bigger than I am and 50 pounds heavier. And part of my other challenge is if I leave to go block a shot every time, then my man is on the boards and it goes from a 6-9 guy boxing out to a 6-4 guy rotating down and boxing out. So we've got problems with that as well."

As the cameras turned off and moved on to other players in the room, Lee then said, "I know I'm going to get hammered for this no matter how I answer the questions. So it is what it is."

Clearly, Lee won't have to deal with this much longer. He'll be a free agent this summer and whether he re-signs here or goes elsewhere, he'll do so as a power forward.

"In the past, the biggest issue with me in playing the four was the fact that I couldn't shoot the jump shot," he said.

Obviously that issue has been resolved, as evidenced with his much-improved mid-range game this season.

"But we have, what, 21 games left?" he said. "I'm going to battle at the five spot for 21 more games and we'll see what happens."

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