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Knicks overdo it from downtown in loss to Bulls

New York Knicks forward Jared Jeffries, left, and

New York Knicks forward Jared Jeffries, left, and Al Harrington sit on the bench during the closing moments of a 98-89 loss to the Chicago Bulls. (December 17, 2009) Photo Credit: AP

CHICAGO — Eventually you would have expected the Knicks to take one to the basket. Maybe two. But all that seemed to be on their minds was threes.

The result was a two of another kind — as in consecutive losses following what appeared to be a promising four-game winning streak — after a maddening 98-89 loss last night here to the Bulls, who have been playing like a team waiting for coach Vinny Del Negro to get fired.

The Knicks took a franchise-record 47 three-point attempts, which eclipsed the previous mark of 41 taken on Oct. 31 against the 76ers. It fell just two shots short of the NBA record of 49, set by the Dallas Mavericks in 1995-96.

Though it was clearly way too many treys to chuck, the bigger issue was that only 14 of them went in. What was worse is the Knicks shot 36 percent from field in the game and attempted only 16 free throws.

The Knicks went through an awful drought in the second quarter when they missed 15 straight from downtown. Then in the fourth quarter, when they were still very much in the game, they missed five straight.

This one might be more confounding than the meltdown Tuesday in Charlotte. The Knicks were off to a 17-point lead that evaporated like the weight off Eddy Curry’s body. And Curry was literally in the middle of the collapse, as he entered with the team leading 33-16 and Mike D’Antoni calling for regular post-ups for the big man.

It seemed like the Knicks weren’t even trying to hide the fact that they would like to showcase Curry, who struggled (0-for-2, one offensive foul in three minutes). But what was more concerning than how the performance did little to improve Curry’s trade value was the impact it clearly had on the rest of the team. From that point on, the Knicks’ offense lost its mojo.

Al Harrington and Chris Duhon each had 18 points for the Knicks (8-17). Danilo Gallinari also had 18 points and got an earful from injured Bull Tyrus Thomas — a reported trade target of the Knicks — when he missed badly on a three-point attempt in the final minute.

Luol Deng had 24 points to lead the Bulls (9-16).

Joakim Noah didn’t have a dominant game statistically, but his defense against the pick-and-roll definitely had something to do with the Knicks’ struggles. Without their go-to play, the Knicks resorted to drive-and-kick plays that set up too many perimeter looks. The Knicks only had eight points in the paint in the second half.

They still held a 79-75 lead with 8:36 left in the game after a Gallinari three-pointer just before the shot-clock buzzer, but the Bulls then ran off 10 straight points — five by rookie Taj Gibson — to take command. The Knicks tried to catch up by going to — what else? — the three-point line, but the strategy had already been deemed futile.

While lottery pick Jordan Hill remained fixed on the bench, Gibson (12 points, 10 rebounds) brought great energy inside and helped the Bulls dominate the boards.

It was Curry’s first game back in his hometown in almost two years. Curry remembered the 105-100 win for the Knicks on Jan. 8, 2008 as “a decent night.” His stat line — 29 points, eight rebounds, four blocks in 36:44 — was a reminder of the player he used to be.

A player Curry believes he can be again. “I think that those days are close,” he said before the game. “I feel like I’m definitely feeling 100 percent. At this point it’s about continuing to get adjusted and have them continue to get adjusted to me.”

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