Following years of rebuilding, the New York Knicks think they are finally ready to contend in their first full season with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. A struggling offense and an injury to Stoudemire have put an early damper on those lofty expectations.
With Stoudemire questionable due to a sprained left ankle, the Knicks look to get their offense on track and avoid their third straight loss Saturday night when they visit the Sacramento Kings.
New York (1-2) finished with a winning record for the first time in a decade last season, and a season-opening win over rival Boston seemed to bode well for a return to prominence.
However, the Knicks have struggled mightily on the first two stops of a three-game California road trip, falling 92-78 to Golden State on Wednesday and 99-82 to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. Their point total against the Warriors was their lowest in any game since Feb. 22, 2010, and their 31.3 field-goal percentage against the Lakers was their worst since Nov. 29, 2007.
"The Lakers are good, and we're awful," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We didn't play well. We can't make shots."
Anthony says the Knicks aren't panicking, just seeing the effects of an abbreviated training camp.
"This game is about acting, and right now, we're reacting," said Anthony, the lone bright spot against Los Angeles with 27 points, seven rebounds, five assists and 8-for-14 shooting. "We just need to get out there and play ball. … We're good. Not too much to worry about three games into the season. We will get better."
Immediate improvement may be tough if Stoudemire can't play Friday. The All-Star forward, New York's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, sprained his left ankle late in Thursday's loss.
Even without Stoudemire, the Knicks could take advantage of a Kings team that has given up 104.5 points per game in back-to-back losses. Sacramento (1-2) gave up 33 fast-break points and let Chicago shoot 53.8 percent in a 108-98 defeat Thursday.
"We defended them pretty well, but we can't defend breakaway layups," Kings coach Paul Westphal said. "We have guys crashing the boards, where we have no business doing, and we had guys not rotating back and trying to get steals in the backcourt. The Bulls can run, everybody knew that. If you want to win games, don't give them layups. Make them run their offense."
That's also good advice for facing the Knicks, whose halfcourt offense has had trouble with execution in the last two games.
"Everything is just difficult for us right now," center Tyson Chandler said. "We've just got to make things easier than they've been."
The Kings have won four of five against the Knicks, but New York prevailed 113-106 in Sacramento last season. Stoudemire led the Knicks with 27 points and 10 rebounds, while Tyreke Evans had 23 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Kings.
Kings second-year center DeMarcus Cousins averaged 15.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in two games against the Knicks as a rookie despite shooting only 34.3 percent (12 for 35) from the field. Cousins has also struggled with his shot early in 2011-12, hitting on 34.9 percent of his attempts through three games.
Anthony's teams have gone 3-10 during his career when visiting Sacramento, where he's averaged 30.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in his last three games but has lost each time.