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Knicks squander early lead in 117-98 loss to Hawks

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Saturday, December 26, 2015, 9:59 PM

Carmelo Anthony's 18 points and 12 rebounds are not enough for the Knicks on Saturday.Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

Carmelo Anthony’s 18 points and 12 rebounds are not enough for the Knicks on Saturday.

ATLANTA — As the schedule intensifies, reality is starting to settle in for the Knicks: they can’t beat the good teams.

The latest example was a 117-98 loss Saturday evening to the Hawks, a result that was forged by careless mistakes and a dreadful second half.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to continue to kind of raise our level, continue to grow and evolve,” coach Derek Fisher said before the game.

Opportunity squandered.

The Knicks went toe-to-toe for a half, running with the Hawks (20-12) until they couldn’t keep up, until the shots stopped falling and the turnovers accumulated.

New York (14-17) has dropped three straight, all against opponents above .500. Its record against winning teams is a paltry 5-13, which provides the most damning evidence that the Knicks are not ready for playoff contention in an improved Eastern Conference.

They scored just 35 points in the second half, shooting 30 percent. Carmelo Anthony returned from his sprained ankle and couldn’t halt the slump, despite scoring 18 points with 12 rebounds in 30 minutes. Kristaps Porzingis was flustered by Atlanta’s pressure defense, shooting 3 of 10 with just nine points and two rebounds rebounds. The Hawks, per usual, bludgeoned their opponent with ball movement and balanced scoring, with five of their players scoring in double-digits.

They went on an extended 34-12 run between the third and fourth quarters, and that was it for New York: after two days off around Christmas, it rolled over at Philips Arena. The seats cleared out with four minutes remaining and the Knicks trailing by 20.

The Knicks tried to start off the year on Santa’s nice list, barreling out to a 15-point lead in the first seven minutes. Anthony, who lobbied his fans for All-Star votes before the game, led the charge with nine points and six boards in the first quarter, finishing the half with a double-double.

The Hawks proceeded to chip away at their deficit in the first half, until Jeff Teague jacked up – and connected on — a 3-pointer at the second-quarter buzzer to cut the deficit to 63-60. It was a disappointing finish to a half the Knicks led by double-digits for a large portion while shooting 66 percent, somehow matching preferred breakneck pace.

The problem was turnovers. Despite a pregame warning from Anthony, the Knicks committed seven of them in the second quarter – and 22 overall.

“Just taking care of the ball is the key. Not turning the ball over,” Anthony said. “We know they like to get going in transition when we turn the ball over. They capitalize on turnovers. Get the shots that we want. And go from there.”

Four minutes into the second half, the Hawks took their first lead of the game on Kent Bazemore’s 3-pointer. The Knicks, who are in the middle of a stretch of 11 straight games against opponents currently over .500 — never recovered. Paul Millsap paced Atlanta with 22 points, seven boards and seven assists. Al Horford, Mike Scott and Jeff Teague each scored at least 17 points.

“That’s becoming the more popular way to play basketball,” Fisher said of his opponent. “Sometimes it takes a while to get the message across that there should be a balance to what you do offensively to be successful. It forces you to guard all five guys. That’s what makes playing against the Hawks tough.”


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