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Presence of Bender means less need for Curry

New York Knicks' Jonathan Bender (9) drives the

New York Knicks' Jonathan Bender (9) drives the ball around Los Angeles Clippers' Marcus Camby (23). (December 18, 2009) Credit: AP

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Turns out not everyone was thrilled with Jonathan Bender's remarkable Knicks debut Friday night.

Bender returned from a four-year absence stemming from wrecked knees and hit his first two shots in the Knicks' 95-91 win over the Clippers. Unnoticed at the time was the scowling (metaphorically, at least) presence of Eddy Curry on the Knicks' bench.

Bender's 14-minute, nine-point stint and coach Mike D'Antoni's short rotation - and the utter lack of any role or need for Curry in the Knicks' up-tempo system - meant Curry did not play a minute and might not anytime soon.

Curry noticed. "I'm happy we won," he said after practice Saturday. "I'll leave it at that."

But you know he couldn't leave it at that, not with a quartet of pestering reporters asking him how it felt to go from low-minute afterthought to no-minute not-thought-of-at-all.

"Nobody is ever happy not playing," he said. "I've stopped trying to understand things. I just kind of roll with the punches. I'll continue to try to be ready, but I'm not going to try to understand."

Curry wasn't raging, but he threw out a few sarcastic phrases that made it clear where he stands:

"If I ever get in . . . ''

"What minute or two I get out there . . . "

Let's face it: As a low-post player, Curry is a bad match for D'Antoni's system. He's still with the Knicks - who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday - only because no other team is desperate enough to take on his $10.5-million salary for this season and player option for about $11.3 million for 2010-11.

Curry played a total of 17 minutes in the Knicks' previous three games. He had the same number of fouls as points - five.

"It's a team thing more than an Eddy thing, I think," team president Donnie Walsh said.

Said D'Antoni: "The team has a hard time switching gears, going to the post-up and all that. It's not him as much probably as it's just the whole thing. It's going to take a while and practices to work him in."

D'Antoni wouldn't go as far as to say Curry is out of the rotation with the 7-foot Bender now in it.

"I don't want to say that because that will be the headline, and I'm not there yet," he said. "We'll just see. We'll just keep playing with it and hopefully we can get him in sooner or later."

As for Bender, he went through his first practice Saturday the morning after his first NBA game since Nov. 5, 2005, and said he felt "pretty good."

Walsh, who acquired Bender in a trade for Indiana in 1999 when the then-18-year-old was the fifth overall pick in the draft, was pleased with the now 28-year-old's initial Knicks outing.

"It didn't surprise me," Walsh said. "I was happy to see it. I didn't know what quite to expect because he hadn't played in so long. With the first move , I went, 'OK, that's what I remember.' "

Notes & quotes: Larry Hughes (strained left groin) is unlikely to play when the Knicks host the Bobcats Sunday night. He's listed as questionable.

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