- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

NEW YORK — The struggling New York Knicks have been looking for a team to beat up on, and last night they finally found one — the suddenly hapless Washington Wizards.

The Knicks exploited the same thing every Wizards opponent does these days — Washington’s matador-style defense — on the way to a 113-92 rout at Madison Square Garden, a loss that had the 12-18 Wizards openly wondering what kind of team they are after four straight losses.

“Maybe we are not as good as we think we are. It’s a soul check,” Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, who made just one field goal in the second half, finishing with 22 points and failing to become the first Washington player to score 40 points or more in three straight games.

“We keep thinking we are a playoff team, and we keep getting beaten by bottom-feeder teams,” Arenas said. “Maybe we need to look at ourselves a little bit harder. We need to come and play. That’s what it is now. We keep losing to teams we’re supposed to beat. Maybe we’re not supposed to beat these teams. If we’re one of the bottom teams, we’re playing like them.”

The Knicks qualify as bottom feeders despite winning their second straight. Last night’s victory was just their fourth in 16 games, but they did it in dominant fashion.

The 21-point win was the Knicks’ largest of the season, and they did it with the help of two rookies.

Reserve center-forward Channing Frye matched his career high with 30 points on 11-for-13 shooting. And 5-foot-9 rookie guard Nate Robinson finished with 16 points and tied for game-high honors with seven rebounds.

Both played a large role in the second half when the Knicks built their lead as high as 23 points in the fourth quarter.

The Knicks shot 55 percent, but they destroyed the Wizards after halftime when they made 21 of 36 shots. They put the game away when they bridged the third and fourth quarters with a 29-8 run, giving them a 92-71 lead with 8:33 left in the game.

A sign that a team is not competing is a lack of effort on the boards, and the Wizards did little in that area last night. The Knicks outrebounded the Wizards 49-30.

Still, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan did not assail an effort that clearly deserved it.

“I’m satisfied with the effort,” Jordan said in the bowels of Madison Square Garden, where in the aftermath of the game Wizards center Etan Thomas and Knicks forward Maurice Taylor had to be separated during a postgame skirmish. “I thought there were times when we could have competed at the rim and been more fierce. I thought we could have been a little more physical and athletic at the rim.”

Beginning with the Rockets game two nights ago, this portion of the schedule was supposed to be easy, filled with bad teams the Wizards hoped they would have no trouble beating.

But after losses to the Knicks and Rockets — two last-place teams with a combined 21-39 record — today’s game against Boston and the next two against Utah and Atlanta are games that could be more trouble than expected for Washington.

Antawn Jamison finished with 22 points for the Wizards, and Caron Butler added 16.

Note — Wizards forward Jared Jeffries left the game in the third quarter after being struck in the eye and never returned. He was diagnosed with a scratched eye, and his status for tonight’s game is questionable.

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