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Should D'Antoni take one for the team?

Houston Rockets' Chuck Hayes, right, knocks the ball

Houston Rockets' Chuck Hayes, right, knocks the ball loose from New York Knicks' Amare Stoudemire (1) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game. (Jan. 19, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Mike D'Antoni had an opportunity over the last two days to stand up for his team and his star player but rather than risk a $35,000 fine from the NBA for criticizing officials, D'Antoni pumped the brakes.

"We lost a tough one and some of the things I just didn't think went our way and that's normal," D'Antoni said after the painful buzzer-beater loss to the Thunder. "I think I'm a little biased. That's life."

Not exactly taking the league or the referee crew to task for what was a poorly officiated game and one with calls down the stretch that cost the Knicks a much-needed win, though they were their own worst-enemy with just two points in the final 3:05.

Sure, it's not my money, but most of the time a franchise makes the payment when a coach sticks his neck out with the hope that it at least gets the league's attention. Stan Van Gundy was slapped with a $35,000 fine earlier this month after he accused referees of targeting Dwight Howard with technical fouls. Byron Scott also took a $35,000 fine from the league when in November he said his team played against eight players, five in white jerseys "and three with stripes."

D'Antoni generally prefers to take a more personal tack with the officials. Rather than call them out, pull them aside and make a case. From press row, it was quite clear that D'Antoni was working the refs the entire night, as he does most nights, and on several occasions he let them have it for missed calls. D'Antoni always defends his players throughout the game.

But did something need to be said publicly afterward, if at least to let the players know you have their back? The follow-up question to that is, would it have mattered? Would it create excuses D'Antoni doesn't want to create?

As the Knicks stormed off the court tonight upset by Kevin Durant's well-defended three-pointer (fading right) at the buzzer, but they seemed more furious with the officiating than how they failed to close out what should have been an important win. Of course we the media who ask the questions did have something to do with that.

"I don't know, I can't say nothing about the officiating without saying something wrong," said Raymond Felton, who was hit on his jumper that made it 98-95 with 1:19 left and believes he was fouled on his missed drive with 29.1 seconds left. "It is what it is."

The Knicks were called for 21 personal fouls in the game, while the Thunder were whistled for 19. Not a large discrepancy, but the Thunder took 34 free throws compared to 21 for the Knicks. In the second half, the free throw difference was 13-7.

Of course it should be noted that the Thunder scored 18 points in the paint on 23 attempts in the second half, compared to 12 points in the paint on 14 attempts for the Knicks.

And the Knicks went into Saturday's game ranked 10th in the NBA with 25.4 free throw attempts per game, so they're hardly among the persecuted. Gripes about officiating is rampant throughout the league this season and it's fair to say they've been equally bad for everyone. But when you've lost six straight games and are desperate for a break, a friendly bounce and an opportunistic whistle, you start to feel like everyone else is getting the benefits.
For instance, when Amar'e Stoudemire pointed out that Russell Westbrook took 17 free throws in the game, it made Felton, standing nearby, shake his head and snicker.

"I'm just going to laugh about it," Felton said with no trace of a smile on his face.

"A couple of times I went to the basket, it could have gone either way with the calls," Felton said. "You know how that go. But, whatever."

Coincidentally, it was on that drive that Felton missed that the Knicks were doubly-burned because Westbrook grabbed the rebound and was fouled. "I thought the foul was actually on Westbrook," Stoudemire said. "But, I mean, he went to the line 17 times . . . "

At least in this game Stoudemire made three trips (6 FTAs) to the stripe, compared to the two foul shots he had against the Spurs on Friday. D'Antoni said he reviewed the game and didn't see much wrong with the way the calls -- or a lack thereof -- went in how DeJuan Blair and Tim Duncan defended Stoudemire.

"You've got to give them credit, they had two guys inside that are extremely, really good with their hands," D'Antoni said. "They got their hands on the ball."

Amar'e ranks seventh in the NBA with 8.2 free throw attempts per game, which means he gets his share of calls. But after watching him now for a half-season, I come away many nights thinking he should be going to the line a lot more than he does, considering how often, and how hard, he goes to the rack. 

And lately it seems he isn't getting calls even as frequently as he did earlier in the season. As a result, he's starting to feel the physical affects of his power game and the heavy defensive pressure that opponents put on him. Without a second go-to scorer, the game plan against the Knicks is simple: smother Stoudemire and force someone else to beat you. With Wilson Chandler slumping and Danilo Gallinari so hot and cold, there just isn't a bona fide scorer who can carry the load to take pressure off Stoudemire. And that is why the Knicks are trying to work out a trade for Carmelo Anthony before the Feb. 24 trade deadline, though, at this point, it remains a challenge because the Nuggets are just not enamored in anything the Knicks have to offer -- or are willing to offer -- right now.

Overall, Stoudemire is feeling overwhelmed by how he is being officiated, especially when it comes to the technical fouls. He picked up his 13th of the season when he and Serge Ibaka were nailed with double-techs with 5:04 left in the game after some bumping on the way down the court. After reviewing it, the league may rescind this one.

"I don't understand what's going on with these technical fouls," Stoudemire said. "We're really just playing the game. We just bumped a little bit. It's not that serious for a technical foul. I don't understand what these officials are thinking out here."

* * *

* - Gallinari's 23 points against the Thunder was his first 20-plus performance since he had 25 against the Heat on Dec. 17. He had 20 in the first half of that game and tonight against OKC he had 18 in the first half. The trick is to get Gallinari to put to big halves together on the same night, but what tends to happen is the offense goes away from him. He was 1-for-5 in the second half against OKC as Felton (11 shots) and Stoudemire (nine) dominated the offense. D'Antoni admitted keeping Gallinari involved in the offense is "something we need to do better."

* - Chandler looks completely out of confidence on offense now (2-for-8, 5 points vs OKC) and there is no coincidence to the fact that his slump coincides with the six-game losing streak. Over this slide, Chandler is shooting just 36.2 percent from the field and 17.8 percent from three-point range for an average of 11.1 points per game. Remember December? He shot a a blistering 52.2 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from downtown for an average of 19 points per game in 13 games. He provided the scoring punch needed to complement Stoudemire and that's what made the Knicks so difficult to defend.

* - This game ended a grueling stretch of 10 straight games against Western Conference opponents, with eight of them on the road. The Knicks went 3-7 in that span. They finally get back to playing Eastern Conference teams starting Monday at the Garden against John Wall and the Wizards.


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