MINNEAPOLIS - Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire were putting up the type of numbers Wednesday night that the Knicks hoped they would consistently do when they became a tandem. The Knicks still found themselves in a huge hole.
It didn't matter how solid Anthony and Stoudemire looked on offense, not with the Knicks consistently struggling to get stops on the defensive end.
Another poor defensive effort led to head-scratching defeat -- to a Timberwolves team that before this game had a worse record than the Knicks. Making matters worse, Minnesota was without three of its top four players and still rolled to a 115-99 victory at the Target Center.
This two-game trip was dreadful for the Knicks (3-10). They trailed by 26 in Milwaukee Tuesday night and were down 24 Wednesday night on their way to their ninth loss in 10 games.
The Knicks rallied to get within two twice in the final 12 seconds against the Bucks. Wednesday night, there was no comeback against the 3-7 T-Wolves, who allowed 270 points in their previous two games and lost by a combined 62 points.
Anthony spent the last 16:04 on the bench after scoring 20 points. At least he got to rest his sore left knee. Stoudemire finished with 19 in just 20 minutes.
Kevin Martin torched the Knicks for 37 points. He shot 14-for-20 overall, and 7 of 11 from three. Shabazz Muhammed added 17 points and Mo Williams had 14 and 13 assists.
The Timberwolves were without starters Ricky Rubio (sprained ankle), center Nikola Pekovic (sprained wrist) and forward Thaddeus Young (death of his mother). Respectively, they're the Timberwolves' assist leader, top rebounder, and second-leading scorer. Yet the T-Wolves took control in the first half and led by double digits for all but 1:14 of the second half
In need of some type of spark, the Knicks could get Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani back Saturday against the 76ers. They should help the Knicks' offensively, but neither is good defensively, which is the area this team needs help most.
At halftime of their loss to the Bucks Tuesday, Fisher challenged the Knicks to play harder. J.R. Smith called it "embarrassing" that they had to be reminded about that. But the Knicks haven't been a team that prides itself on its effort.
The Knicks have made falling behind by double digits commonplace. Yet Fisher continues to take it easy on the Knicks, at least publicly. When he was asked about Iman Shumpert being a bright spot in the Knicks' loss Tuesday, Fisher said he "thought there were more than one bright spot," and ultimately absolved them.
"It would have been easy to fold up the tent and start looking forward to [playing the Timberwolves]," he said. "So it does take some character, some grit, some integrity to fight back and give yourselves a chance the way guys did in the fourth quarter. Guys are trying really hard to play team basketball -- we had 30 assists. It's not what we want -- and those are wins."
It's hard to get wins when you don't defend, and Wednesday night started out similar to the Bucks game. It was close in the first quarter and then the T-Wolves distanced themselves from the Knicks in the second and led 64-51 at the half. The Knicks allowed 37 points in the second quarter and fell behind by 16 points. Minnesota hit 15 of 21 field-goal attempts. The night before, the Bucks shot 15-for-23 in the second and scored 36.
Giving up open three-pointers remains an issue. The Timberwolves came in averaging five three-pointers per game. They shot 8-for-13 from three in the first half. Four of their last seven baskets were threes, including their last three.
After cutting it to 64-55 early in the third quarter, the Knicks had more defensive breakdowns. The Timberwolves made seven of their next 10 shots and opened up an 86-62 lead with 4:05 left in the quarter.