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Pushing panic button, since there's no easy button

Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph ain't walkin' through that door.

Mike D'Antoni is back to looking like a coach with very few options. With his team in a 2-11 tailspin (and also now six games out of a playoff spot), he was asked about shuffling the deck and trying other players with the hope of sparking something positive.

"We've gone that route and I don't see anything better or worse," he said. "We'll keep looking at it, but we're going through with this group right here and should win."

The problems that have come up lately seem to be the same as they were early in the season, the last time the Knicks were 11-games under .500 (Dec. 2): defense and effort. This time around the team is a little banged up physically, but they're playing with some injured egos as well. The spirit again seems low around the locker room.

And is it really a surprise, when you consider, as Jeffries said, "We're right back in the place we were" before things turned around in that 9-6 December.

January started out well -- 3-0 -- but finished with just three more wins in the last 12 games. February's schedule is extremely light (seven of 11 games at home), thanks to the all-star break, but March will come in like a lion (opens in Cleveland and has 10 of 16 games on the road) and and keep roaring through to April (13 of the final 19 games of the season are on the road).

On top of it, the Charlotte Bobcats, Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors seem to be pulling away in the race for the final berths in the East. In fact, those teams have all moved ahead of the Miami Heat, who currently hold the eighth spot.

Jeffries said "there needs to be a sense of urgency" but downplayed talk about panic. Al Harrington, who has missed two games with a knee injury (and his 17 points per game off the bench have been sorely missed), feels differently.

"Everybody," he said, "should be hitting the panic button at this point."

If only there was an easy button. Donnie Walsh could press it to make a playmaking point guard who can knock down shots and defend appear on his roster before the Feb. 18 trade deadline.

Even D'Antoni seems to hope something can get done before the deadline to give him another option.

"I think we as an organization and Donnie [Walsh], they're looking all the time and trying to better the team without messing up the long-term plans," D'Antoni said. "It's a tricky thing, it's not easy to do. But we'll keep plugging and I'm sure Donnie will keep looking and do what's necessary."

A few concerns:

Without Harrington, the Knicks bench managed just 8 points in the blowout loss to the Timberwolves on Sunday and had 23 points mainly because Nate Robinson had 16 of them. Jonathan Bender, who has played in place of Harrington, has been scoreless (0-for-6) in those two games.

"I'm good," Bender said. "Yeah, I'm feeling good."

He's not looking too good right now.

Robinson is dealing with a nagging hamstring, but his game seems to have regressed to his November standard, right before his 14-game benching. Not to say he's back with the antics; actually that part has not been a noticable issue since he's been re-inserted into the lineup.

But it's painfully clear he is not comfortable running the offense, which means when Chris Duhon goes to the bench the team doesn't have anyone who can get the offense under control and keep it in a flow. Robinson also has a maddening penchant for backpedaling too deep into the defensive zone on offense, which allows opposing point guards to walk the ball up the floor comfortably and permits the other team to get into their set and run their offense. Nate needs to be more aggressive and hound the ball across the timeline. Maybe the hammy won't allow for this, but it makes no sense for a 5-9 guard who is ridiculously athletic to hang out in the circle of the key and wait as the opposing guard brings the rock up the floor.

Jordan Hill is getting a good opportunity here but you're seeing just how much more he needs to learn, especially on defense. I don't mind rookie mistakes, but what you want to see is rookie accountability. You'd like to see him take a little more pride in challenges against players in the paint and, mostly, take pride in his effort.

In Minnesota, Kevin Love beat him up the floor for a layup (Hill had to goaltend it on the chase), which should never, ever happen. Jordan needs to use his athleticism in every way possible, including the simple idea of making the other team's big run the floor. It's amazing to me that, as effective as big, burly Al Jefferson was on Sunday, none of the Knicks bigs tried to get him into a race to wear him down (we all saw on Tuesday he's not in any kind of shape) and get him off the court because of fatigue and foul trouble.

We could roll through the entire roster at this point, but it's becoming redundant. Whatever the Knicks had going for them in December and early January -- the mojo of effort and defense -- is clearly gone again.

New York Sports