WASHINGTON - As snow fell on the nation's capital yesterday, the Verizon Center hosted a pair of basketball games: Duke-Georgetown in the afternoon before a sellout crowd and Knicks-Wizards at night before a less than half-filled arena.
It's not hard to imagine why the first contest was more buzz-worthy. President Obama and Vice President Biden sat courtside for No. 7 Georgetown's 89-77 victory over No. 8 Duke; the streets around the arena an hour before the NBA game were filled with exuberant Hoyas fans sloshing about in the rare D.C. winter blast.
None of which mattered much to the Knicks. The state of their union was questionable going into the game, with five key contributors attempting to play through injuries and only four able to.
It wasn't much better after the game. Mike Miller thwarted the Knicks' zone by hitting seven three-pointers and scoring 25 points and Antawn Jamison had 21 points and 23 rebounds to lead the Wizards to a 106-96 victory. The Knicks (18-28) have lost six of their last eight.
"I didn't think we had our focus and energy right," said coach Mike D'Antoni, who spent the game's final minutes screaming at referee Zach Zarba, who listened impassively. "A little tough to play . . . the atmosphere wasn't the greatest. But we just didn't come out with the fire necessary."
Said Jared Jeffries, who played all 48 minutes the day after getting an MRI and a cortisone shot in his knee to treat a bone bruise: "I think it's tough when you come out and they don't really have a crowd. You've got to bring your own energy and sometimes that's hard."
(The announced attendance was 16,233. It's not the first fudged number to come out of Washington.)
The Knicks, who were led by David Lee's 24 points, were without Al Harrington; he had an MRI on Friday on his sore right knee and was pronounced fit to play last night after going through his pre-game workout.
Then he was pronounced unfit to play about five minutes before game time and did not dress. Well, not in a uniform, anyway.
The other banged-up Knicks are Lee, who revealed after playing 40 minutes that he is getting treatment for a sore right hamstring; Wilson Chandler, who has a strained groin muscle; and Nate Robinson, who said he is still not 100 percent after missing a game last week with a sore hamstring.
But the Knicks have to keep going. They have a game at Minnesota tonight.
"Today was a big letdown for us as far as a game we needed to win," Lee said. "Regardless of what their record is, whether it's the Lakers or the Nets, today was a game we needed to win. We're what, 10 under now? It was a big game for us. Tomorrow is an even bigger game.
The Knicks fell behind by 18 early in the second quarter and switched to the zone because, as D'Antoni said, "They scored 36 on us in the first quarter and we couldn't stop them."
The Knicks rallied to tie it at 50 by scoring the first six points of the second half. They had a chance to take their first lead since it was 9-7 when Gallinari missed a 20-foot jumper.
From there the Wizards (16-30) outscored the Knicks 32-17 to take a 15-point lead at the 1:28 mark of the third. The Knicks never got closer than six (99-93 with 2:47 left).