Maybe blaming all of the Knicks' problems on a lack of heart or hustle is missing the mark. And if anyone can identify with missing the mark, it is the Knicks.
At least that was the case Monday night, when they missed a chance to take advantage of a fellow slumping, straggling team and allowed the Pistons to dominate the second half and win, 96-85. And the Knicks' backcourt in particular missed, missed and missed some more when they shot the ball.
The point is, the team's losing streak, which reached seven games, can't be reduced to merely a matter of effort. It is not just a question of how hard they play but how soft their shooting touch is. The key phrase is not only "we have to play harder." This game was summed up by one word: Clank.
"I'm just beyond frustrated," said Raymond Felton, who shot 1-for-9. "The ball just isn't going in the basket for me right now. It's something I'm fighting with mentally, missing shots I normally hit."
Late in the game, before a few baskets that came too late to matter, starting guards Felton and J.R. Smith were a combined 1-for-19 from the floor. They finished 6-for-26, which was not helped by the combined 2-for-13 from subs Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr.
All told, their play negated a typical solid night from Carmelo Anthony (28 points) and an inspired one from Amar'e Stoudemire (22 in the second game of a back-to-back).
Certainly, no one on the Knicks could offset the strength and energy of Andre Drummond, who had 26 rebounds along with 17 points. He, along with Greg Monroe (11 points, nine rebounds), Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum, took over after the Knicks led by five at halftime. Their 14-point first-quarter lead eventually turned into a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit.
On a night when the Knicks figured to be able to regroup against a team flailing to stay afloat in the playoff race, Detroit turned the tables on them. The Pistons had lost four in a row and seven of eight, but they sent the Knicks (21-40) to their 13th defeat in the past 15 games, dropping them 61/2 games out of the final playoff spot and a season-high 19 games below .500.
"At this point, I'm kind of running out of comments to talk to you guys about," Anthony said. "It seems like it's becoming repetitive. I've got to try to find something else to talk about."
Well, this time there was the matter of marksmanship rather than the usual theme of intensity. Smith said he kept shooting short in warm-ups, so he focused too much on trying to put arc on his shots during the game. "You try to overcompensate for something instead of just naturally going out there and doing it, that's a conflict," he said.
Felton is a more mystifying story. He has said he is determined not to let his arrest on a gun charge last week be a distraction, but he has shot only 7-for-32 since then.
"My personal life is my personal life. But at the same time, if you're dealing with something, it's on your mind," Felton said. "I try not to let that come into my job. This is my job. I've got to perform, I've got to do my job.
"There's nothing I can really do about it. Just keep shooting. At some point, it's going to go away. I can't not take those shots because it's going to mess up our offense. I'll figure it out."