In the end, Cleveland was the breaking point.
You could feel good in the wake of the two-point loss to the Celtics on Wednesday. Amar'e Stoudemire's shot might have come after the buzzer, but it came early enough to make you smile through losing.
Even after being tied at the half, you could swallow deep and accept that the Heat are good enough to paste teams by 23 points on the road. But there's no way to put a positive spin on the miserable performance during Saturday night's overtime loss in Cleveland.
The team seemed lifeless throughout the contest and wound up losing several leads to a team in the midst of a 10-game losing streak because they simply got outworked. In past years, seeing that kind of performance would be deflating but not surprising because hard work was seen about as often as a unicorn. This year's group hasn't had that problem which makes you wonder if they aren't just being worn down.
Raymond Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire are logging a tremendous amount of minutes and Stoudemire, in particular, looked exhauseted down the stretch against the Cavaliers. Mike D'Antoni has essentially limited his rotation to six players with Ronny Turiaf's injury keeping him on the bench more often than not. Three games in four nights caught up to them as did D'Antoni's general distrust of his bench.
That Cavs loss makes you think the Knicks need to make a move quickly to help their depth. The obvious spots for an upgrade are a backup point guard to run the offense when Felton is out of the game -- Toney Douglas can't do it -- and a big man to help Stoudemire rebound and defend in the paint. Get those players and you'll see everyone's minutes go down enough to optimize their effectiveness.
The other two losses sent a different message, however. Depth would have been nice in both cases, but beating teams like the Celtics and the Heat is going to take more than a better bench. It's going to take a better front line than they currently have and that, naturally, leads to discussions about a deal for Carmelo Anthony.
No one is going to do a better job of laying out the pros and cons of Anthony than Howard Beck of the Times did with his "Princess Bride"-style column late last week. He's a special talent whose strengths fit well with D'Antoni's style, but one whose flaws also make him a dangerous player to roll the dice on after doing so much to build the team that the Knicks have put together thus far. Having that discussion says much about how far the Knicks have come, but also how far they still have to go.
Right now, the need for depth feels bigger than the need for Anthony. The Nuggets don't seem ready to cave and send him to the Garden and the Knicks can't survive much longer without bolstering the unit they are playing right now. Ultimately, they are going to need to kill both those birds, however, and one stone isn't going to do the job.