GREENBURGH, N.Y. - As Wilson Chandler attempted free throws during the second quarter of the Knicks' 50-point loss to the Mavericks at the Garden on Sunday, Chris Duhon heard a familiar voice call to him.
It was John Starks - a player who has some experience in persevering through shooting slumps - and he offered a few brief words of encouragement to Duhon from a courtside seat along celebrity row.
The moment didn't inspire any sudden turnaround for Duhon, who finished the game 2-for-7 from the field and missed all four of his three-point attempts. But it was symbolic that everyone within the franchise - including Starks, who serves a non-basketball role as alumni relations and fan development adviser - is aware of exactly what is troubling the Knicks, who have lost six of their last eight games.
"It's critical. Without a doubt, it's critical," coach Mike D'Antoni said of the point guard position. "Somebody's got to play really well there."
D'Antoni argues that the only real issue with Duhon is his shooting (30.8 percent from the field in January) and said his assists-to-turnovers ratio still ranks among the best in the NBA. Though overall this is true - Duhon ranks sixth in the league with a 3.32 assists-to-turnover ratio - his ratio this month is down to 2.56, which ranks 31st among NBA guards.
D'Antoni has swapped the other guards on the team - Nate Robinson, Larry Hughes and rookie Toney Douglas - in and out of the rotation, but he is steadfast in his loyalty to Duhon "because when he plays well, he's our best point guard."
Perhaps that's more of an indication of how important the point guard position is for the Knicks and why Donnie Walsh will make that a priority before the Feb. 18 trade deadline.
Walsh said Monday that he won't make a trade for the sake of making one, but there is little doubt that he will ask his scouts, who are in this week for pre-deadline organizational meetings, about possible available players.
After Duhon's alarming second-half crash last season, the Knicks spent last summer trying to upgrade at point guard, and it remains an obvious area of need halfway into the season. Coincidentally, Tuesday night at the Garden, the Knicks host the Timberwolves, who have a surplus of young guards in Jonny Flynn, Spanish prospect Ricky Rubio and Ramon Sessions, whom the Knicks strongly considered signing last summer.
D'Antoni was in no mood to consider the alternatives. "I don't want to go there because, I'm telling you, Chris is going to come back and he's going to do it," he said. "He's just got to come out of this funk and we've got to do it. We've got to fight."
Notes & quotes: Chandler did not practice, resting a strained right groin that bothered him in Sunday's game. He is questionable for tonight's game. Nate Robinson (hamstring) also did not practice and will test it out before the game.