LeBron James came to Madison Square Garden Sunday to lend his good friend Carmelo Anthony some moral support.
It wasn't enough, however, to keep the Knicks from losing their eighth straight as they were defeated, 103-99, by the Portland Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden. With James watching from a courtside seat across from the home team's bench, the Knicks did what they have been doing all season: made a late run only to blow it in crunch time by turning over the ball, taking a beating on the boards and missing key shots.
The loss was the Knicks' eighth straight, making this their longest dry spell of a very dry season. Seven of those eight losses have been by seven points or fewer as the team seems to be freezing up in the final seconds while their opponents find a way to win.
Sunday night, it was LaMarcus Aldridge who did a better job of closing out the game than Carmelo Anthony and company. Aldridge scored a game-high 24 points with 11 rebounds, including six straight of his team's final eight points.
"I don't think it's [mental]," J.R. Smith said of his team's late struggles. "I think when it's knuckle-up time, we have to execute better and just keep getting stops. We played well in the fourth quarter. The last minute, they just played better than us and won."
It was Smith and Anthony who carried the Knicks back from 10 points down in the third quarter to the point where they had a chance to beat the Blazers. Anthony scored 23 points, including seven in the final quarter. He missed a 21-footer with 1:05 left and the Knicks trailing by one. Smith also had a big night for the Knicks, scoring 20 points and shooting 8-for-12.
"I've never been in a situation like this, losing games as close as we're losing them," Anthony said. "This is new to me. This feeling is new to me. This situation is new to me. But I'm not going to stop. We're not going to stop. I won't allow us to stop. The easy thing to do is to stop right now and hang your heads. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us, so we have to keep on going."
Amar'e Stoudemire, who has been critical of the team's play in crunch time recently, was not as upset about their play Sunday night. "Tonight we fought. We really fought tonight," Stoudemire said. "We came out with some aggressiveness, we battled, there's a lot of effort put forth out there. Guys were truly playing with their hearts tonight. There's no moral victories but I think tonight was a good step toward something that we've got to continue to do."
Portland (16-4) should have been the toughest of outs for the Knicks. The Trail Blazers entered the game with 12 wins in their previous 13 games. Sunday night's win was their fifth straight.
James, who is in town with the Cavaliers, who play the Nets Monday night at Barclays Center, is a close friend of Anthony's and Anthony said he appreciated his coming to the game. "I knew he was in town. I didn't believe he would come, but that just shows what type of guy he is," Anthony said.
"Regardless of what team he is on, there's a support system there and I take my hat off for him coming here and supporting me tonight."
Notes & quotes:
Before the game, a reporter from Portland asked Fisher if he thought it was fair that the triangle offense was getting the blame for the Knicks' woes. Said Fisher: "You know, it's fun to write about and I guess talk about. It seems like this mysterious thing for a long time, but it's just a form of offense that you try to play basketball out of. It doesn't cure all. It doesn't conquer all." . . . Cleanthony Early, who had arthroscopic knee surgery to remove a loose body from his right knee in mid-November, said before the game that he believes his rehabilitation is going well.