At this point, the Knicks will try anything to create a different kind of finish, including changing the way they start. The hope was that putting Amar'e Stoudemire in for the opening tap would fuel the team so it wouldn't run out of gas again.

Sure enough, there was a change in the Knicks on their return home from a brutal trip. They did not build a tantalizingly big lead only to blow it and lose. They didn't do any of that. And they still lost, and in its own way it was even more excruciating than the others.

After the Knicks failed to get off a shot in their final possession -- J.R. Smith could not elude Monta Ellis as the 24-second clock expired -- Dirk Nowitzki hit a jumper at the buzzer to give the Mavericks a 110-108 win.

That spoiled another gem by Carmelo Anthony, who had 44 points, and dropped the Knicks 15 games below .500 and six games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It was another very demoralizing night, given the electricity the Knicks generated when Anthony sank a three-pointer to tie it at 108 with 50 seconds left. The basket capped an 8-0 run that needed only 37 seconds.

Nowitzki (15 points) put up his shot from the top of the key, with Anthony on him. The ball banked off the backboard, hit the front of the rim, went up in the air and dropped in.

Mike Woodson had said it this way: "Something has got to give." To put it another way, anything is worth a try. So Stoudemire started for the first time since March 2012, alongside Anthony and Tyson Chandler, reuniting what the team had foreseen as the Big Three.

"It's a shame. Here we are so deep into the season and I'm still trying to figure out the right rotations," Woodson said.

But he had grown tired of seeing the Knicks squander double-digit leads in the previous three losses. He mentioned that a big lineup was pivotal in a 92-80 win in Dallas last month, so he figured he would try it again.

Stoudemire was as surprised as anyone, not knowing until he arrived at the Garden. "It feels good to get that nod," he said.

Stoudemire scored five quick points, but the Knicks fell behind by 14 in the first quarter and by 13 early in the second. Then they changed the flow, leading by two before trailing by one at halftime, 60-59. Stoudemire finished with nine points in 20 minutes.

What succeeded was the formula the Knicks relied on all along: Give the ball to Anthony, who has averaged 41 points the last three games, all losses.

"The way he's playing,'' Woodson said, "it's a damn shame we're in the position we're in.''

In the second quarter, Anthony was particularly aggressive going to the basket. He scored 17 in the quarter, giving his team another shot at a good finish.

And Stoudemire, the surprise starter, knew as well as anyone that endings are more important than starts.

"We've got to find a way to win games. We've been talking about this the entire year. We've got to figure out how to really buckle down and get stops down the stretch and also score offensively," he said. "We move the ball well to start the game off, we play with great intensity and up-tempo. But when it gets to the fourth quarter, things seem to slow down a little bit. We've got to continue to play as well and as elusive as we have in the first three quarters."

The ending Monday night, though, proved that wins are the most elusive things.