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Let’s See If It’s Possible to Still Be Optimistic About the Knicks

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 11: J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks stands dejected at the end of the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Madison Square Garden on March 11, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Boy, they look happy.

The worst part about the Knicks' five-game losing streak — culminating in a listless 106-94 loss to the Sixers yesterday that was definitely the worst of the bunch — is that there really isn't much anyone can do about it. There have been calls to throw the bums out, to TRADE EVERYBODY, to poke every player with something hot and pointy until they decide to start playing together. We are not sure what more roster turnover is supposed to accomplish. This is a team that is extremely talented and extremely unable to play together well. It is easier to find the ability to play together well than it is to find the talent.

And it's not like the Knicks aren't trying to figure this out. Coach Mike D'Antoni knows his team has the talent and is desperately, furiously mixing and matching combinations. Perhaps disturbing, perhaps telling, it's starting to look like the combinations that work best are the ones that don't have Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire (and even sometimes, ahem, Jeremy Lin). The issue is not that everyone is collectively playing poorly. They're not. (Though Lin is rough right now, and you could make a strong argument that Linsanity is officially dead and buried, at least from the perspective of the press who fueled its rise.) D'Antoni finally decided he'd had enough of it all and benched Anthony and Stoudemire for most of the fourth quarter. It was a message. It was a "we need some leadership out of you two. Immediately" shot across the bow.

Did Carmelo get the message? Well: "I guess he was saving me for tomorrow’s game [at Chicago]," Anthony said. "That was the mindset out there." So, no, then.

Yesterday's game, all told, was tough to watch. Of all the five games in the losing streak, it was the Knicks' worst one. You saw plenty of flashes in the other games, and they probably should have beaten Boston and Milwaukee, when you really break it down. Yesterday, it looked like the wheels fell off, particularly in the third quarter, a quarter in which the Knicks consistently lose. Is this so broken down that the Knicks cannot fix it?  We do not think so. The talent is still there, even if it rarely works, and when it does, it works only in solo fashion. If the Knicks truly collapse like this the rest of the way, they'll miss the playoffs, D'Antoni will be fired and the franchise will undergo yet another facelift. We're not ready to give up on this year's team, this collection of skill, this ongoing work in progress, work that often regresses. We still believe this team could be a championship contender. The pieces are there. It really could happen. It's probably not going to. But this team could do it. It's so far away at this point that it's more fun, and certainly more cathartic, to demand the whole thing be blown up. And maybe it will be. That'll all happen in time, or it won't. But all we can do now is sit through it, hope it gets better and, for our own well-being, know when to avert our eyes.

A good night to do that? Tonight, when they play in Chicago against the Bulls, the team with the best record in the NBA. Not in the face, okay?

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Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images