CLEVELAND – Amare Stoudemire came back. The Knicks went missing.
Stoudemire returned after missing 13 games with a back injury, but playoff-bound New York looked tired after clinching a spot in the postseason and played one of its most uninspired games in weeks, losing 98-90 to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night.
"There's nothing about tonight's game that I liked," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "We just didn't compete. That's unacceptable."
Stoudemire, who had been sidelined since March 24 with a bulging disk, scored 15 points and didn't show any signs of the injury. But the Knicks came out flat, stayed that way until making a late run and lost to a Cleveland team that won for just the fourth time in 19 games.
"We could have come out with more energy and did a better job out there," Stoudemire said. "We felt complacent, being that we clinched, we felt like we accomplished something. We just got to keep our focus going into the postseason."
The Knicks dropped to 15-6 under Woodson, who took over when Mike D'Antoni resigned on March 14. New York may have missed a chance to move any higher than the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. As it stands now, the Knicks will face LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat in the first round.
"There's no reason to panic right now," Stoudemire said. "We feel like we can do some damage in the postseason."
Carmelo Anthony added 12 points, but he and Tyson Chandler sat out the entire fourth quarter as Woodson chose to rest some of his starters before a matchup with Atlanta on Sunday.
"There was a 20-point lead at about the 7- or 8-minute mark," Woodson said. "I started to go back (to them) and I just said no. I'm thinking this is seven games in 11 days for us, maybe they are tired, but that's not an excuse. You have to give Cleveland credit.
"They kept playing and didn't quit playing from the beginning to the end."
Manny Harris had 19 points and a career-high 12 rebounds to lead the Cavs, and rookie Kyrie Irving scored 21 points in his second game back from a shoulder injury.
Samardo Samuels added 15 points for the Cavs, who have won 10 straight at home over the Knicks. New York hasn't won in Cleveland since Nov. 29, 2006.
"I can't explain it whatsoever," Cavs coach Byron Scott said of Cleveland's dominance over New York. "We came out ready and they were kind of not into it."
Stoudemire was in foul trouble in the first 5 minutes and never got into a groove. Anthony, who has had to carry the scoring load with the team's No. 2 scoring option sidelined, went just 5 of 13 from the field in 29 uninspired minutes. The Knicks didn't wake up until the final minutes when they cut a 19-point deficit to eight on two free throws by Stoudemire with 2:33 left.
New York had a chance to get closer, but Toney Douglas made a silly pass for a turnover and JR Smith then fouled Harris on a 3-point miss. Harris knocked down two free throws and Cleveland's Donald Sloan drove past four Knicks standing like statues for an easy layup to put the Cavs ahead 96-82.
"I've seen this happen over the years," Woodson said. "You clinch a spot. Guys take a sigh of relief and they stop playing."
Not the Cavs.
They outhustled the listless Knicks to loose balls, and with only the NBA lottery to look forward to, had one of their best home games this season.
Cleveland had a little luck, too.
Leading 74-60, the Cavs were in danger of turning it back over when Harris lost control of the ball. But he ran it down near halfcourt, turned and launched his 42-footer that caromed in off the glass as the horn sounded.
"I knew it had a chance," Harris said. "I tried to aim a little higher and what happened, happened."
Irving showed some nice flashes in 26 minutes. The presumptive rookie of the year made two driving layups in traffic and dropped all eight free throw attempts. Scott didn't put his young star back on the court in for the fourth and said it's possible he will sit Irving out in one of the final four games.
"He's a difference-maker," Scott said. "When he's on the floor, I think guys feel a little more comfortable and they know he's going to get things done."
Notes: Cavs F Antawn Jamison passed Gail Goodrich (19,181) for 45th place on the NBA's career scoring list. ... Browns quarterback Colt McCoy sat courtside along with teammates Evan Moore and Montario Hardesty. ... Knicks G Baron Davis was penciled in to start, but sat out with a stomach virus and didn't get to face the Cavs, who waived him earlier this season under the amnesty provision. ... The Knicks also rested F Jared Jeffries because of a sore right knee.