Before one second of basketball was played on Thursday night, it looked like it was going to be a rough game for the Knicks.
There was no Carmelo Anthony because of suspension and no Raymond Felton or Rasheed Wallace because of injury, leaving the team awfully thin on the roster front. The Pacers have been one of the hottest teams in the league, using punishing defense to lead their way to victory.
And, on top of all that, former Pacers guard Haywoode Workman was working the game as a referee in a decision that had no actual bearing on the game but a huge psychological one if you're the type who believes that the intangible has some impact on the results. So it wasn't much of a surprise for the game to end with an 81-76 Pacers win because, again, that's the way things were looking the entire time.
Seeing it coming didn't make it any easier to watch. As you can tell from the score, it was a brutal offensive night and the Knicks might not have cracked 60 if not for J.R. Smith's ability to spin gold out of manure when he takes the ball to the rack against a strong defensive opponent.
It's the kind of loss that you'd just like to forget about, especially with another game on Friday against a Bulls team that's already beaten the Knicks twice this season. It won't be all that easy to forget about, though, because it reflected some larger trends that should be troubling to the Knicks.
The first is the crystal clear example of how reliant the Knicks have become on Anthony for points in recent weeks. Anthony's averaging nearly 32 points per game in his last 10 games, a total that wasn't close to being replaced by the rest of the Knicks on the floor Thursday night.
Felton has missed six of those games from Anthony and it's increasingly clear that the Knicks can't mimic what they get from him at point guard. Jason Kidd has plenty of ways to provide value, but he can't beat the kind of pressure defense the Knicks saw on Thursday and he doesn't offer the offense the same kind of penetration that opens up other avenues to score for a team that isn't getting the ball to the rim nearly enough when Anthony or Smith don't take it there.
The other issue exacerbated by Anthony's absence, but still in existence even when he's in the lineup, is the overall health of the roster. Even during the team's brilliant start, there was a feeling that their aging roster would be at risk of physical breakdown over the course of the season.
Marcus Camby was forced out on Thursday after turning an ankle, joining Wallace on the bench and leaving the Knicks to rely on Kurt Thomas for interior defensive help for Tyson Chandler. Thomas didn't play poorly, but he has his limits and the team would benefit from a more dynamic option.
This is the part where we're supposed to say that Amar'e Stoudemire could kill both these birds with one stone. The best we could muster at this point without being too negative is that Stoudemire is still getting his legs back and that things should be better a little bit down the road.
For now, though, Anthony can't get back soon enough as MVP candidates have a way of making you ignore other flaws.