High hopes have given way to high anxiety in New York.
Thought to be a contender, the Knicks are the runaway leaders as the NBA's biggest bust thus far. The superstars haven't been super, the offensive guru coach can't fix the offense, and the team is closer to last place than first in the Eastern Conference at 7-13.
"It's not a great feeling. The whole purpose of playing is to contend for a championship, and right now we're not on that pace, on track right now to contend, so we've just got to keep getting better,'' forward Amare Stoudemire said. "It's a long season, but we can't have any excuses. We've got to start winning now, we've got to start playing top-notch basketball right now, so we've got to get it going.''
That won't be easy this week, when the Knicks play three games in three nights. Even worse, they don't know if Carmelo Anthony and Baron Davis will be available.
Neither practiced Monday, and while Davis won't play until sometime next week, Anthony took part in a morning workout Tuesday and could play against Detroit. The Knicks would like to get that one, because they face Chicago and Boston during their back-to-back-to-back that starts Thursday.
"We've got to get going now,'' Stoudemire said. "It's an important part of the year where we've got to get going. We've got to try to win by any means right now, so we don't want to get too behind to where we have to dig out of deep hole. We've got a deep enough hole as it is now.''
The Knicks have lost three straight and nine of their last 10 games, with Anthony missing the last two because of injuries to his right ankle, right thumb and left wrist. Coach Mike D'Antoni says Anthony wants to work out again Tuesday at Madison Square Garden so he can be sure he is ready to return after missing the past two games with ankle, wrist and thumb injuries.
"If we was winning, I would try to take my time, but right now I want to try to push and see what I can do,'' Anthony said.
Davis has been working to get into shape after missing the entire season with a herniated disk in his back. D'Antoni says Davis hasn't had a setback, the training staff just thought he should take some more time.
New York was expected to be a playoff team after acquiring Tyson Chandler to play between Anthony and Stoudemire, and maybe even good enough to unseat Boston in the Atlantic Division. But while the newcomer has been solid, Anthony has made just 31.7 percent of his shots in six games since he was originally hurt, and Stoudemire continues to suffer without a playmaker, with a 17.7 points per game average that's his lowest since his rookie year on a career-worst 42.8 percent shooting.
Despite the disappointing start, D'Antoni said he isn't worried about his job status, or lobbying management to upgrade the Knicks' talent - which wouldn't be easy anyway because they traded away most of their assets last February to get Anthony.
''We need to maximize what we got right now on the floor,'' D'Antoni said. ''That's my job, that's hopefully what we can get done and we need to do it.''
But D'Antoni, whose offense was once the envy of the league when he coached in Phoenix, seems just as baffled as anyone by the Knicks' struggles on that end. They are in the bottom half of the league with 93.7 points per game and 41.4 percent shooting, wasting their improved defensive play with Chandler, who said he never could have expected his new team to struggle to score.
''Given (D'Antoni's) history, the success has always been on the offensive end, more so lacking the defensive end,'' Chandler said. ''The defense has picked up but we're struggling offensively. We have to find a way to make it work.''
The Knicks knew their offense wouldn't be right until Davis played, giving them the veteran point guard they lack. But in the meantime, they've blown an easy part of their schedule, dropping home games against sub-.500 teams such as Charlotte, Toronto and Milwaukee, and there's no telling how long of an adjustment there will be once Davis plays.
Chandler won a title with the Dallas Mavericks last season, so he knows what an elite team looks like. And he still sees one in the locker room, even if the Knicks aren't one in the standings.
''In all honesty, I still feel like this is a team that can win a championship,'' he said. ''You know, I feel like we definitely have the pieces, I feel like we haven't came together yet, and it's a process. I feel like guys are going to have to step up and play roles that they're not necessarily used to, and when we get everybody back healthy and get everybody on the floor at one time, we can really see what we got.''
Injury-riddled and undermanned, Detroit's losing streak hit five in a 103-82 loss at Milwaukee on Monday. The Pistons (4-18), who were without Ben Gordon and Will Bynum, never led as their defense was again shredded on the perimeter and the offense inconsistent.
Both Gordon and Bynum are questionable for this game. Rodney Stuckey picked up some of the offensive slack Monday with 19 points and six assists. Detroit, though, has shot 39.5 percent while averaging 86.8 points during its five-game skid.
In the most recent three games of the losing streak, opponents have made 29 of 48 (60.4 percent) from 3-point range. The Pistons have allowed 101.0 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting in all five losses.