By Rob Mahoney
December 12, 2013

The Knicks squandered a 23-point lead against the Bulls on Wednesday, but managed to pull out a bittersweet win. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) The Knicks squandered a 23-point lead against the Bulls on Wednesday, but managed to pull out a bittersweet win. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The 6-15 Knicks have a knack for making every win feel empty, no matter their desperation. Wednesday's narrow 83-78 escape against the debilitated Bulls was no exception; while a few offensive bursts allowed New York to build up a 23-point lead, every bit of it evaporated as the Knicks succumbed to a wounded opponent and their own worst tendencies. They did everything they could to lose their 16th game of the season (and their third straight) save to punch the defeat through, but were credited with a win only because some team had to be.

Absent that bottom-line affirmation, there wasn't much good in the Knicks' collapse, which seemed to come without any kind of inspired push by the Bulls whatsoever. Over the final 18 minutes, Chicago closed a 23-point gap while shooting 40 percent from the field and turning the ball over on nearly a quarter of its possessions. The Bulls defended well, but not so well as to explain New York's implosion. What began with a few stops gave way to Knicks panic, which predictably led to a series of ill-fated, uninspired isolation attempts for Carmelo Anthony in lieu of the offense that built the lead in the first place. To be fair, Melo only took what he was served; the greater problem was New York's refusal to incorporate any kind of variety into those simplest of sets -- even the slightest bit of movement or misdirection to rock Chicago's defense off balance. Instead, the Knicks triggered the same sequence ad nauseum: Pass to the wing, take as much time as necessary to feed Anthony, clear out.

It worked about as well as you'd expect, given that the same basic formula has marked many of New York's most brutal offensive stretches this season. Anthony tried to create space as he could, but with such rudimentary play-calling he was left to operate in quarantine against the smart and physical Taj Gibson. Anthony went 2-for-10 from the field during that comeback stretch, and frankly didn't get much help. Pablo Prigioni was at times wild and at others overextended. J.R. Smith played so poorly as to finally wear out the patience of Knicks coach Mike Woodson. Iman Shumpert left the game with a knee injury, adding to the ranks of the wounded. MSG officials are still trying to ascertain the whereabouts of Andrea Bargnani. Amar'e Stoudemire was the closest thing this game had to a hero, and even he faded dramatically in the second half. The Knicks limped to the finish in such a fashion that it was easy to forget that they ever held a lead at all.

New York's defense, too, was bafflingly noncommittal, somehow oblivious to both the comeback at hand and the urgency of the team's situation in general. If not for the fact that the Bulls were just as dreadful, that third quarter turn could have cost the Knicks the game and maybe more.

Along with the growing weariness that comes in suffering frequent losses, Woodson's job seems to be on the line every time New York takes the court. Even if he isn't solely to blame for all that ails the Knicks, it's telling that some of the most trusted reporters around the league are already talking replacements. Woodson and the Knicks are both in perilous standing, so far removed from their preseason expectation that anything goes. Whether he would deserve such a fate is almost beside the point; Woodson and his team have been so unthinkably and indisputably bad through 21 games that they leave few other options. Nothing in Wednesday's skin-of-the-teeth win changes that, or even comes remotely close.

They escaped that end on this particular night, but few opponents will be so forgiving as these Bulls.

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