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Stoudemire, Billups in doubt

Knicks determined despite key injuries

By Tony Williams
Globe Correspondent / April 22, 2011

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NEW YORK — Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni is an eternal optimist — almost to a fault, he acknowledges.

Despite being down, two games to none, to the Celtics in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, D’Antoni says his team isn’t panicking. They’re actually entering tonight’s game as confident as can be, even though they may be down two stars.

“We’re disappointed, but we’re confident we can still get the job done,’’ said D’Antoni. “We’re definitely not having our heads down or whatever.’’

D’Antoni is confident, even though the availability of Amar’e Stoudemire (back spasms) and Chauncey Billups (strained knee) is in question.

“We think we can get the job done, no matter what,’’ said the coach. “It’d be great if those guys can participate, but if not, we have to win anyway.’’

The Knicks have lost two tight contests in what has turned out to be a very exciting series. Besides the injuries, late-game execution has been New York’s downfall. And while Celtics coach Doc Rivers acknowledges that his team has yet to put together a solid four-quarter game, D’Antoni said neither has his team, and that Boston’s struggles are due in part to some rare defensive intensity by the Knicks.

“They’re really good,’’ said D’Antoni. “Our thought process, though, is that they didn’t play well because we didn’t let them play well. That’s going to be our mind-set going in, and it’s up to them to prove us different. But we feel we can do the job.’’

Stoudemire will be a game-time decision, and Billups, according to D’Antoni, is “very questionable.’’

Stoudemire didn’t practice yesterday. Billups was at the Knicks’ facilities but didn’t participate in workouts, and the veteran point guard didn’t sound optimistic about playing.

“I feel a little better every day,’’ he said. “There’s no structural damage. But I don’t know. They drained some blood and shot the cortisone and now I have to wait. There’s nothing more I can do.

“At this point, I know I’m not going to be 100 percent, but I don’t need to be 100 percent to come back. I just need to help the team and not hurt the team.’’

New York’s third star, Carmelo Anthony, said whoever suits up will be expected to play the game of his life.

“I hope they can go, but I really don’t know,’’ Anthony said. “But the guys that are playing, we have to keep that same effort and play the same way.’’

Anthony added that although he is more than capable of carrying a team — thanks to his time in Denver — he’d rather not.

“I think the other guys understood that was a lot for any one person to take on,’’ said Anthony, referring to his Herculean 42-point, 17-rebound, 6-assist effort in Game 2. He’d rather not shoulder such a load in Game 3 but will if needed.’’

D’Antoni agreed, and emphasized the need to sustain this newfound defensive intensity.

“We have to get back in transition,’’ D’Antoni said. “The first game, [Rajon Rondo] got to the rim three times all game, and [in Game 2], he got to the rim eight times in the first quarter. We just didn’t bust back.

“I thought we played smart and played with heart. We feel good about where we are and it should be a great night for us, hopefully.’’

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