After losing to the Washington Wizards, the New York Knicks' dwindling playoff chances desperately needed a boon of hope against the Miami Heat. But they got nothing. Carmelo Anthony had nothing, so the Knicks left Miami with nothing. No win, no hope.
It was fun for a while. The Knicks hung tough with the Dwyane Wade-less Heat for most of the game, taking a one-point lead into the second quarter and a two-point lead into halftime. They held strong for most of the third quarter too, exchanging leads and jockeying for position with the reigning champs.
Then, things started to unravel in a hurry.
LeBron James and friends went on a 7-0 run in the final two minutes of the third quarter, as the Knicks made one bad decision after another. Uncharacteristically leading the mistake charge was Anthony, who had a game to forget, but one he'll undoubtedly remember.
In 44-plus minutes of action, Anthony went 4-of-17 from the field for 13 points, converting only 23.5 percent of his shots overall and 25 percent from downtown (1-of-4). When he has a game like this, chances are the Knicks will lose.
And they did.
This was the second straight game in which Anthony failed to tally at least 15 points. Against the Wizards, he went for 10 points on 5-of-14 shooting to go along with nine turnovers. The Knicks lost then too.
Against the Heat, Anthony was out of sync. Double-teams were constantly thrown his way, and he was forced to give the ball up, with his path to the rim frequently cut off.
When he did shoot, there was usually a hand or two (or three) in his face. The Heat never let him get going, so you always got the sense, even when the Knicks were within striking distance, that they weren't in position to win this game.
Because they weren't. Not really.
There isn't much the Knicks can do when 'Melo isn't 'Melo. It didn't matter that J.R. Smith set the team record for three-pointers made in a single game by drilling 10 of his long-ball attempts.
It didnt matter that the Knicks buried 15 three-pointers as a team.
It didn't matter that, for the most part, Iman Shumpert put forth a sensational defensive and rebounding performance.
It didn't matter that the foul-happy Raymond Felton played one of his best games of the season.
What mattered, what still matters, is none of that was enough.
What matters even more is Anthony. He's fading, wilting when the Knicks need him most.
April 'Melo is supposed to be the best 'Melo, the indomitable 'Melo. Statistically speaking, April is the best month of his career. Heading into the Knicks' bout against the Heat, he was posting lifetime April averages of 26.7 points on 48.3 percent shooting. Through three April contests this year, he's registered 15.3 points on 36.2 percent shooting.
That's the tough part.
This isn't an effort thing. This is more of a trying-to-do-too-much thing.
This is a workload-is-finally-catching-up-to-him thing.
Coming in, Anthony was nursing a sore left shoulder that visibly impeded his effectiveness against the Wizards. While he was always expected to play in Miami, his self-diagnosis wasn't good, per The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring:
Immediately after this loss, this playoff-chance-crippling loss, Anthony's shoulder wasn't any better:
Is it a coincidence Anthony failed the Knicks while playing with a bum, shot-fazing shoulder injury?
By the fourth quarter, Anthony could be seen grimacing in between play stoppage. His shots caromed off every part of the rim. He was more inclined to pass than drive. He just didn't have it, so the Knicks couldn't win.
And their postseason odds have plummeted accordingly.
This loss isn't on Anthony. Any temptation to put it on him shows how far the Knicks have fallen. They're too inconsistent, too turbulent.
On offense, the Knicks were dissonant. Ball movement was intermittent. Isolations once again dominated the floor, especially later in the game. When they did move the ball, there was too much East and West action, too much settling.
Too many mistakes.
The Knicks' story is the same as it's always been: Just when you think they've turned a corner or understand the difference between right and wrong, effective and ineffective, they dig themselves deeper and deeper.
All season, they have been working against the clock, trying to ensure there's enough time for them to salvage what's left of this year with a playoff berth, but that doesn't look like it's coming.
At 33-45, the Knicks still have a chance at making the playoffs, but, like Anthony, their postseason ambitions are fading, crumbling under a need to do too much.
Even if they were to win their remaining four games, they, as ESPN New York's Ian Begley notes, need the Atlanta Hawks to play flaw-ridden basketball:
Though the Hawks are struggling themselves, there's nothing about the Knicks that suggests perfection is possible.
Each of their remaining opponents is a playoff team. To close out the season, they play the Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors (twice). Winning out isn't an option. Not if Anthony's shoulder continues to make him play like he has.
Not when the Knicks cannot win with Anthony playing like he has.
If and when the Knicks officially miss the playoffs, there will be plenty of finger-pointing and reflection. Any one of their many follies and foibles will be looked at as their downfall.
Just don't look to this game.
Don't look to Anthony.
"Jesus Christ," Felton said when Amar'e Stoudemire informed him Smith attempted an NBA-record 22 three-pointers, via Herring.
Don't look to him either.
Look to early season lethargy.
Look to a lack of cohesion and resolve.
Look to a team that has spent all year trying to regain control of its destiny.