Widespread Panic arrived at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
OK, that's just the name of a band that was performing, not the feeling surrounding the basketball team that was busy losing again in another part of the arena.
The New York Knicks aren't panicking, at least not yet. But after dropping five straight games at home, they are frustrated and confused, and aware they need to get things turned around quickly.
"We keep digging ourselves deeper and deeper — I know it's early in the season, you've got to take it day by day — but at the rate this is going, we're going to be in too deep of a hole to dig out," All-Star Carmelo Anthony said.
The Knicks lost 110-90 to the Atlanta Hawks, another alarming night in a season that's already produced plenty of concerns. The Knicks admitted they didn't play with defensive intensity or a fighting spirit, which is far worse than just playing poorly.
"It ain't got nothing to do with making shots or missing shots. We're just not doing it on the other end," Anthony said. "We're not defending, we're not giving no effort. We're not playing right now."
After a rare season of stability in 2012-13, the Knicks are a mess again. The Sixth Man of the Year who was promoted to the starting lineup might be shooting his way back to a reserve role. The $100 million former All-Star wants more minutes, even though he and the team look bad in the limited ones he is playing.
"I think everything that we're doing is correctable, but I think effort has got to come behind it a little bit more and we've got to be true to ourselves, because we're not playing well as a unit right now," coach Mike Woodson said. "We're just not."
The Knicks are 3-6 after winning 54 games last season and their first Atlantic Division title since 1994. They were blown out twice in a week on their home floor and things might be getting worse at home: The next team to visit is Indiana, which shares the NBA's best record and pushed the Knicks around while ousting them in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
New York loaded up on older players last season, and Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas broke down and Jason Kidd ran out of gas before the finish line. But first they helped provide the veteran leadership this team sorely lacks, especially while Tyson Chandler is sidelined with a broken leg.
Saturday felt like a night straight out of the Isiah Thomas era, with bizarre story lines, bad basketball, and unrest coming from the stands. There were the continued trade rumors surrounding Iman Shumpert, louder and more frequent "Fire Woodson!" chants, and seemingly more attention paid to J.R. Smith's poor Twitter judgment than his poor shot selection.
He shot 3 for 18 and fell to 8 for 43 for the season at MSG, the worst start by a player on his home floor since DeShawn Stevenson started 6 for 43 for the Nets in 2011-12, according to STATS.
Woodson said he would re-evaluate Smith's position in the starting lineup, and he's still seeking the best use of Amare Stoudemire. Stoudemire is being limited to about 10 minutes a game after three knee surgeries in the last year, robbing him of any chance to get in a rhythm. He had a few nice moments on offense Saturday, but defensively his presence on the floor remains an invitation for the opponent to run pick-and-rolls that exploit his lack of mobility.
Add it up and it's created what Anthony called a "nasty feeling" within the team.
"We've just got to stick together and stick with it as much as we can. This is probably going to be the lowest point of the season for us," Smith said.
Their division is so bad right now that the Knicks are only a game out of first place. That's about the only consolation for Woodson, a defensive-minded coach with a team that doesn't have a defensive mindset.
"Defensively, somehow we've got to figure out who we are and right now I don't know who we are," Woodson said. "That's on me, again, because I've got to get us back to competing defensively somehow. That's the only shot I think we're going to have in terms of getting back in the winner's circle consistently."
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