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Listless Knicks routed by undermanned Nets

The Knicks' playoff push took a hefty shove back from one of the teams also trying to battle for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. After a promising road trip, which produced three wins in four games, the Knicks surrendered a troubling defeat to the struggling and injury-depleted Nets, 115-89, last night at the Garden.

"I thought we were horrible in every facet of the game," Mike D'Antoni said. "We just had a collapse of energy and desire."

Part of the reason was a lack of a desperately needed energy boost from Nate Robinson, he of the new 80-foot Nike billboard revealed Monday on Seventh Avenue and the new Nike sneaker released on Tuesday. But despite wearing the same green uniform he had on for his Slam Dunk championship, KryptoNate was a dud. He had 18 points and only two assists in 36:15.

"I don't want to go out and force anything, I wanted to let the game come to me," Robinson said. "Tonight wasn't my night."

It wasn't anybody's night in green - the Knicks wore their St. Patrick's Day uniforms - and the defeat was costly in the playoff standings. The Bulls and Bobcats also won, which sent the Knicks (28-39) 2 1/2 games behind the Bulls for the final playoff spot in the East with 15 games left.

The Nets (29-39) jumped over the Knicks and clinched at least a tie for the season series. The teams meet in the regular-season finale at the Garden April 15.

"We thought we could beat them tonight," David Lee said, "especially without Devin Harris. "

The Nets were without Harris, who is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, but 29 points from Vince Carter and a concerted effort by Carter's supporting cast made up for the loss. Rookie center Brook Lopez had 23 points, Keyon Dooling, who started in Harris' place, had 17 points and seldom-used rookie Chris Douglas-Roberts finished with 14 points off the bench.

Al Harrington had 21 points to lead the Knicks, who made just 2 of 17 from downtown.

Carter was a one-man show in the first half, when he reeled off 19 straight points to single-handedly bury the cold-shooting Knicks. Carter hit a fadeaway with 2:13 left in the first quarter to make it 20-20 and the run ended with a deep three with 8:12 left to make it 37-27 Nets.

The rest of the Jersey lineup took over from there, as Douglas-Roberts came in and started attacking the basket and making shots and the Nets took an 11-point lead at halftime and were up 90-67 late in the third quarter.

That occasioned an unhappy chorus of boos from the Garden crowd, a rarity lately. The Nets were ahead 110-85 when D'Antoni finally yelled, "Cheikh please!" He sent in 10-day contract players Cheikh Samb and Demetris Nichols. Eddy Curry, who is active, did not get called to action.

But perhaps he should have, especially after the 7-foot Lopez had his way against the 6-9 Lee down low. Lee Struggled with early foul trouble and finished with 13 points and six rebounds.

Notes & quotes: Despite Danilo Gallinari's back issues, which have him out likely for the rest of the season and contemplating surgery, team president Donnie Walsh said he has no regrets about choosing the Italian with the sixth overall pick. "I'm convinced we took the right guy," Walsh said, "and I'm optimistic that this can be taken care of and he can get back to being 100 percent." . . . Chris Duhon returned to action after he was shut down for two games to allow his body to recover from nagging back and ankle pain. D'Antoni opted to stick with Robinson in the starting lineup last night . . . Celebrity row included actors Ethan Hawke and Jay Mohr and among the Garden crowd was Cuttino Mobley, who took in his first Knicks game since he retired in December because of a heart condition.

Playoff race

EASTERN CONFERENCE

W L Pct. GB

5. Miami 36 31 .537 18

6. Phila.* 34 31 .523 19

7 Detroit* 33 33 .500 20½

8 Chicago

31 37 .456 23½

9. Milw. 31 38 .449 24

10. Char. 30 38 .441 24½

11. Nets 29 39 .426 25½

12. Knicks 28 39 .418 26

*Late games not included

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