Suns hope to catch Knicks on cold night

STATS Writer

The New York Knicks got off to their best start in decades due in large part to consistent 3-point shooting. They’ve recently struggled to hit from outside, and the team’s recent slide looks like no coincidence.

The Knicks will try to avoid rare consecutive losses on Wednesday night when they visit the Phoenix Suns.

New York has employed the league’s most 3-point-oriented offense all season, firing a league-high 29.2 3-pointers a game. The Knicks (20-8) have also been efficient, making 11.5 to shoot 39.5 percent.

But the team’s long-range shooting has gone cold, with New York connecting on 31.2 percent over the last five games, contributing to three losses in that span.

The Knicks’ 100-94 loss against the Lakers on Christmas marked the second time this season they lost three times in a five-game span. They’ve yet to drop three in a row.

A victory to open this three-game trip was within reach with New York holding a nine-point lead in the third quarter, but it was limited to 16 fourth-quarter points – two shy of a season low – and hit 9 of 26 from beyond the arc. The 34.6 3-point percentage was actually the team’s second-best during the last five games.

Carmelo Anthony scored 34 and J.R. Smith added 25, but the duo combined for only 12 in the final quarter.

“We missed a lot of easy shots … shots that we normally make,” said Anthony, who ranks near the top of the NBA at 28.3 points per game, the second highest average of his career.

“There were some plays that we thought should have went our way down the stretch, but for the most part, we fought. I’ll take this effort any night. If we continue to play with this effort, we’ll win a lot of games.”

The Suns (11-17) come in having lost two in a row after winning four straight. They matched a season-low point total in a 103-77 home loss to the Clippers on Sunday.

Phoenix, too, has struggled from long range recently, going 8 of 36 (22.2 percent) in the last two defeats. The Suns also committed 16 turnovers against Los Angeles, which could prove costly against a Knicks squad averaging a league-low 10.8 turnovers per game.

“They can afford to turn the ball over a few times,” said center Marcin Gortat, as the Clippers also had 16 turnovers. “Our team can’t fall for that. We have to run what the coach is telling us to run and to execute.”

New York continues to await the season debut of former Sun Amar’e Stoudemire, who likely won’t return until after the this trip, which concludes Friday at Sacramento.

Stoudemire hasn’t played after undergoing left knee surgery in the offseason, but shot some before Tuesday’s game against the Lakers.

“I’m not quite there yet, but I’m making progress,” said Stoudemire, who averaged 17.5 points and 6.8 rebounds last year. “I’ve just got to stay patient and stay ready. We’ve been doing extremely intense work, as far as cardio.”

Marcus Camby, who appeared in only six of New York’s first 26 games because of a sore left foot, played on Tuesday for the first time since Nov. 26. He had four points and four rebounds in eight minutes.

The Knicks beat the Suns 106-99 on Dec. 2 behind Anthony’s 34 points. They ended a seven-game losing streak in Phoenix with a 121-96 rout on Jan. 7, 2011.