By J. Michael Falgoust, USA TODAY
It’s bad enough to be down 3-1 in a first-round series, but the latest injuries have all but guaranteed that the elimination of the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls — like death, taxes and reality TV shows about singing and dancing — is imminent.
It’s simply a question of how much they can prolong the suffering, including that of the viewers.
Sunday’s Game 4 of the Knicks-Miami Heat series was mostly must-not-see TV until the fourth-quarter drama unfolded with Carmelo Anthony coming through with 41 points in a playoff game. Still, they lost starting point guard Baron Davis to a right knee injury in the 89-87 victory at Madison Square Garden, and even with him healthy they stood no chance of a series upset.
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The only healthy point guard remaining for the Knicks: Mike Bibby, 34 in a week, who hasn’t played starter’s minutes all season. Jeremy Lin is a possibility, but he has been out since March 24 because of left knee surgery. Trying to get up to game speed vs. an athletic team such as the Heat in the playoffs could be asking too much for the second-year player with a bright future.
The Knicks are a No. 7 seed. They’re supposed to lose. Not the No. 1 seed Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls were without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Sunday’s 89-82 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers and lack the guard play and the confidence they need to come back. Aesthetically speaking, it has been painful to watch without Rose’s dynamic play.
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In the last two losses, Chicago has averaged 78 points. Sunday, they shot 40% from the field (34-for-85), including just 27.3% from three-point range (3-for-11).
The cold, hard reality? The Sixers were actually worse. They shot 39.2% (31-for-79) and 26.3% from three-point range (5-for-19).
The Atlanta Hawks went down 3-1 after an embarrassing effort in a 101-79 loss to the Boston Celtics. The Hawks put on an unwatchable performance as they trailed by as many as 37 points.
Boston, which isn’t noted for its offense, shot 51.2% (41-for-80) and made 42.3% of its three-pointers (11-for-26). Costa Rica, which hasn’t had a military for more than 60 years, has had better defense.
The Celtics got an injury scare of their own when Paul Pierce went down clutching his knee in the second quarter. Pierce returned in the second half, but he was hardly needed to the rout.
When an opponent concedes home-court advantage, which is what Boston did because coach Doc Rivers chose to rest key players for this playoff series, that says it all. The Celtics knew the Hawks would roll over, and their hopes of advancing are almost dead.
The Los Angeles Lakers had no such injury news, but they did need a big night from their supporting cast to dispatch the Denver Nuggets 92-88 for a 3-1 series lead.
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Reserve forward Jordan Hill had 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Steve Blake scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter, including a key three-pointer that put Los Angeles ahead 92-86 with 18 seconds left.
Knicks F Amar’e Stoudemire: Aside from having 20 points and 10 rebounds with a protective bandage on his stitched left (non-shooting) hand, he played suffocating defense when he had to switch out on Dwyane Wade on the game’s final play. Wade was forced into a tough shot as time expired.
76ers C Spencer Hawes: Without having to contend with the pesky defense of Noah, he had 22 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. It was his second consecutive 20-plus scoring game after having just seven points combined in Games 1 and 2.
Celtics G Rajon Rondo: He posted another double-double, 20 points and 16 assists, as he bested Hawks counterpart Jeff Teague,who had just seven points and three assists.
Knicks F Carmelo Anthony: He came alive with a game-high 41 points, six rebounds and four assists and made the correct play at 1:23 left in the fourth quarter with the hockey “assist” that led to a go-ahead three-pointer by Bibby. Then after the Heat tied it, Anthony knocked down the go-ahead shot, also a three-pointer.
Knicks G Baron Davis: The oft-injured and aging point guard went down with a right knee dislocation in the fourth quarter, ending his season and jeopardizing his ability to be healthy enough to start next season.
Hawks G Joe Johnson: In a must-win game, the team’s $120 million man came up with nine points, three assists and one rebound in 31 minutes. Only one starter reached double figures.
Bulls G Rip Hamilton: When he was signed as a free agent, he was supposed to be a difference-maker on offense, providing an offensive spark as a shooting guard. He had seven points on 3-for-9 shooting and four fouls.
Bulls’ free-throw shooting: They got to the line 14 times, 17 fewer attempts than Philadelphia, which was plus-11 in points from the foul line