The exhausting climb back from a 1-9 start caught up with the Knicks last night in a 104-95 loss to the Nets at the IZOD Center. With a chance to record the franchise's first 10-win month since January 2003, the Knicks fell as flat as the atmosphere in this cavernous arena on the swamp.
More than only a milestone was on the line as the Knicks closed out the 2009 portion of their schedule with a 9-6 December. With the Bucks and Bobcats both losing, the Knicks (12-20) failed to seize an opportunity to jump into the eighth position in the East.
Instead, the Knicks came off one of their more impressive wins of the season in Detroit with very little energy and absolutely none of the defensive intensity they had the night before at the Palace at Auburn Hills.
Mike D'Antoni dismissed the effort as "a classic day" that often happens in the NBA, where the previous night "was an emotional win for us" and the next night the team "didn't bring all the energy we needed to bring."
David Lee, who looked exhausted for most of the night going up against the 7-foot tandem of Brook Lopez and Yi Jianlian, said of the quick turnaround, "I don't want to use that as an excuse. I mean, it definitely didn't help."
Lee, who logged 44 minutes one night after he played 43, had 24 points and 15 rebounds, missed his first career triple-double by two assists and added two blocked shots.
Jianlian had 22 points and Lopez added 21 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots.
And so the league's worst offensive team took advantage of an uninspired opponent by shooting a blazing 61.9 percent in the first half to take a 60-53 lead. The cushion was enough to snap a 10-game losing streak for the Nets (3-29), who were the first team to score more than 100 points against the Knicks in 12 games.
"I think it's so important, man, to come off a back-to-back road game with a high, high energy level early in the game, and we didn't do that," said Jared Jeffries. He was in foul trouble all night and, as a result, the Knicks' defense suffered.
"We got back on our heels and they attacked us, and once that happened it was hard to stop them,'' Jeffries said. "They attacked us the whole game."
Still, the Knicks had a chance to salvage the game in the fourth quarter when the Nets suddenly went cold, but as the Nets went scoreless over a four-minute span, the Knicks turned the ball over on six straight possessions and failed to gain any ground. Danilo Gallinari made a few late three-pointers, but for the most part was invisible (3-for-9, 11 points and three turnovers in 31:13).
Bench scoring continues to be an issue for the Knicks, who got 25 points and nine rebounds from Al Harrington but almost nothing else from the rest of the reserves (eight points). D'Antoni, despite the back-to-back, stuck to his usual nine-man rotation and left fresher legs such as Nate Robinson and Eddy Curry on the bench.
This was the site of where it all started - or maybe ended - for Robinson, who took that ill-advised shot at his own basket just before the buzzer of the first quarter of the Knicks' win here Nov. 21. Robinson has not played in 14 straight games.