Lack of bench hurts

Last night, the Knicks lost to the Magic 116-110 in Orlando. It wasn’t too startling that the new look orange and blue couldn’t follow up their big win over the Heat with another against Dwight Howard and the Magic.

Not surprisingly, D-Howard had his way inside finishing with 30 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks. The big man has been hot lately. So, he did what was expected against our smaller lineup minus a legit big. Maybe if they get Marc Gasol in the offseason, that changes. But don’t look now as the Grizzlies off a big win over the Spurs are in the playoffs if it ended today. Not that anyone should expect him to re-up there. Do the Knicks have enough space for Pau’s younger, underrated brother? That remains to be seen.

The Knicks led much of the way last night, even taking an 11-point lead to the locker room courtest of a tweet from Patrick McEnroe. It’s always refereshing when a famous person responds back. Cool stuff from one of tennis’ best analysts.

Unfortunately, the Knicks couldn’t hold off the Magic who got a huge second half from Jameer Nelson with the former Temple standout exploding for 23 points after halftime. He only had three prior. I’ve always maintained that Nelson is the guy you have to contain. Howard will get his points. It’s just a matter of keeping his sidekicks in check. The Knicks held Jason Richardson to eight. No other Orlando starter hit double digits.

Easy win, right? Wrong. Orlando took full advantage of their bench, outscoring the Knicks 44-11 with J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson and Quentin Richardson(seriously) combining for 38 of the 44. Even Chris Duhon gave Stan Van Gundy some important minutes, chipping in with a bucket and dropping five dimes.

There in lies the dilemma for the star-studded Knicks who now are basically three stars. In Game Four of the New Era, Chauncey Billups, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony combined for 86 of the club’s 110.  It’s great when your best players are your best. However, when you get little from almost everybody else sans other starters Landry Fields (6 and 11) and Shawne Williams (8 and 6), it’s usually not a winning formula.

By now, everyone knows the Knicks bench was seriously weakened when they made the ‘Melo trade. It’s up to Mike D’Antoni to find the right combos to alleviate pressure from his dynamic trio. Complicating matters, Billups, who’s been the best player since the trade, suffered a bruised hip courtesy of a Howard pick. The former Finals MVP won’t play tonight against another tough opponent in Chris Paul and the Hornets, who visit The Garden soon.

Here’s a chance to see what ‘Melo and Amar’e can do minus the new floor general. It probably means an expanded role for long distance shooter Toney Douglas. Look for vet backup Anthony Carter to get back in D’Antoni’s rotation. Does he start over Douglas? Bill Walker has also been providing a boost off the bench. He’ll need to continue that trend tonight.

It should be noted that the Knicks already beat the Hornets at New Orleans last December 100-92 behind 34 and 10 boards from Stoudemire- extending their dominance over Paul and Co. to five straight. That was a different team though with complements Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, plus Ray Felton, who have combined to make Denver 3-1 since moving off Broadway.

This will be a true test to see where the Knicks are. Especially minus Billups’ leadership. He’s largely responsible for their two wins. Now, there’s a void not only in the middle but at the one. Can they overcome that? The bench just might have to take on a larger role.

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