CHICAGO - At first it looked like an omen, the way the Bulls were roaring through the Knicks in the opening minutes. Then it turned into a problem, and then a bigger problem.
Before the Knicks caught their breath or broke a sweat, the score was 16-1, and the whole thing became another bad, bad loss.
"At this point, there really are no answers to it,'' Carmelo Anthony said Sunday after the Knicks failed to get out of that instant ditch and lost to the Bulls, 109-90, at United Center. "As a team, we've got to have some sense of pride just to go out there and compete. It seems like we're not even competing right now.''
Just like that first stretch of 4 minutes, 11 seconds, the recent past has become very ominous for the Knicks. They have lost six in a row and 12 of 14. Worse yet, the past three have been nationally televised blowouts.
Maybe it has something to do with the competition (Heat, Warriors, Bulls). Maybe Raymond Felton's arrest on gun charges early Tuesday has been more of a distraction than he and his teammates said it was going to be. Maybe the whole season is catching up to them.
In any case, their past few days made the Knicks (21-39) look less likely to catch the teams ahead of them in the playoff race. They sure never were able to catch up to the Bulls.
"Without a doubt, it's frustrating, it's embarrassing,'' Anthony said after scoring 21 points one game after suffering an injury to his right hand that he said had cleared up. "Teams win and lose night in and night out, but just the way we're not approaching the games with a winning mentality, a winning attitude . . . I know I'm rambling right now, but it's frustrating. I don't like to be embarrassed like that.''
For a second straight game, the Knicks allowed a triple-double. Center Joakim Noah followed Stephen Curry's path with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists. "He was a quarterback out there tonight, making plays for everybody,'' Anthony said.
Noah set the theme early with three assists and six points in the 16-1 burst that opened, and effectively closed, the game. The Knicks trailed 37-16 after a quarter.
"They came out with more energy than we did, took advantage of us on the defensive end with back-door cuts, and that pretty much told the game,'' Tyson Chandler said. "Can't explain it. In all honesty, I can't.''
J.R. Smith, who said Friday that the problems were a matter of heart, said Sunday: "Plain and simple. They play harder.''
Amar'e Stoudemire, when asked about Smith's "heart" comment, said: "We've got to look ourselves in the mirror before we make statements. We've got to make sure that we are playing hard first. You've got to take care of yourself, then everyone else will follow suit.''
Stoudemire and Anthony sparked a run in the second quarter that cut a 25-point deficit to nine, but it was too late.
The question is, is it too late to convince Anthony to remain a Knick after this season?
"I can't even see tomorrow at this point, man. I'm just trying to stay with it, stay focused, stay positive throughout this situation,'' Anthony said, adding that he noticed a young fan's placard imploring him to sign with the Bulls.
"It was a good sign,'' Anthony said. He pointed out that he was commenting on the artwork, not seeing it as an omen. There were no good omens for the Knicks.