With LeBron James watching from a courtside seat, the Knicks came within seconds of upsetting one of the better teams in the NBA. Instead, things again fell apart for them at the end as they were defeated by the Portland Trail Blazers, 103-99, at Madison Square Garden.

The loss was the Knicks' eighth straight, making this their longest dry spell of a very dry season. The Knicks are now 2-9 in games decided by five points or fewer.

The Knicks led 97-95 with 3:33 left in the game but went 1-for-6 down the stretch. Portland (16-4) was led by LaMarcus Aldridge's 24 points and 11 rebounds. Aldridge also scored his team's final eight points to push them past the Knicks.

Carmelo Anthony scored 23 points, including seven in the final quarter. He missed a 21-footer with 1:05 left and the Knicks trailing by one. J.R. Smith also had a big night for the Knicks, scoring 20 points and shooting 8-for-12.

The Knicks, who had trailed the entire half, went on a 16-3 run late in the fourth quarter to take a two-point lead on Anthony's driving layup with 3:32 left. Three misses and a turnover later, the Knicks trailed 100-97.

Portland should have been the toughest of outs for the Knicks. The Trail Blazers entered the game with 12 wins in their last 13 games. What's more, Portland was averaging 106.3 points on the road. Considering that the Knicks entered the game with an offense averaging only 93.5 points a game, 27th best in the league, and it didn't seem as if the Knicks had much chance of ending their skid.

"They've been able to keep a core group of guys together for a few years and I think Terry Stotts and his staff are doing a good job of helping these guys become better," Knicks coach Derek Fisher said of Portland before the game. "Adversity brings out the best in a lot of people and I think they found out a lot about who they were against San Antonio last year, and they're back this year trying to take another step."

The Spurs rolled past Portland in five games in the playoffs last season en route to winning the NBA championship.

The Trail Blazers have come out of the gate strong this season. Their 16-4 record is better than any team's record in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks were able to stay within striking distance of Portland for the first three quarters, never trailing by more than 10 while leading the Trail Blazers several times by six points.

James, who is in town for tonight's game in Brooklyn between the Cavaliers and Nets, watched the whole thing from a courtside seat. James is a close friend of Anthony's, though it did not appear as if he was cheering for either team.

Notes & quotes: Before the game, a reporter from Portland asked Fisher if he thought it was fair that the triangle offense was getting the blame for the Knicks' woes. Said Fisher: "You know, it's fun to write about and I guess talk about. It seems like this mysterious thing for a long time, but it's just a form of offense that you try to play basketball out of. It doesn't cure all. It doesn't conquer all." . . . Cleanthony Early, who had arthroscopic knee surgery to remove a loose body from his right knee in mid-November, said before the game that he believes his rehabilitation is going well.