An early matinee usually spells doom for an NBA team. Players are creatures of habit and disrupting their customary routine often makes for sloppy play. The Knicks fell into such a rut early and fought out of it early in the first half, only to blow a late nine-point lead in a disheartening 106-96 loss yesterday to the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Knicks teased the Garden faithful with resilient play as they raced back from an early deficit to take a 56-54 halftime lead, on the strength of stellar defensive play and timely shots, as the Sixers [2-5] could only muster 21 points and 30 percent from the field in the second quarter. The Knicks [3-3] were led by Toney Douglas’s 11 first-half points and Amare Stoudemire’s 10.

That winning feeling didn’t last long, however, as New York allowed the Sixers to crawl back into the game with a 7-0 run to end the third. The fourth was back-and-forth until the Sixers closed out the game on a 16-4 run. Douglas, who will be in the discussion for Most Improved Player if he continues his upward trend, was one of the few bright spots in the first half but was victimized by point guard Jrue Holiday and backup point guard Louis Williams in the second half.

Holiday finished with 19 points, five rebounds and eight assists, while Williams had 19 points, including 12-of-14 from the foul line. Elton Brand had a successful homecoming in picking up the slack for Andre Iguodala, who was out with an injury. Brand, a Peekskill native, had a team-high 20 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. It was Brand’s fourth-straight game with 20 or more points. Rookie Evan Turner chipped in with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

The Knicks, who shot 40 percent from the field, including a paltry 16 percent from 3 were led by Stoudemire’s 21 points and 15 rebounds, Douglas’s 17 points and three steals and Danilo Gallinari’s 15 points. Wilson Chandler added 11 points, while Raymond Felton chipped in with seven points, eight rebounds and 10 assists.


1. Toney Douglas continued his upward climb as he had another solid all-around game with 17 points and a team-high three steals. The second-year player has suddenly become one of the go-to guys down the stretch and is routinely playing fourth quarter minutes, while starter Raymond Felton is watching from the bench. Felton finished with seven points, eight rebounds and a team-high 10 assists, but it was Douglas who was in the game down the stretch.

2. Amare Stoudemire finally played like a true power forward as he was feisty under the boards. He finished with a team-high 21 points but what was really impressive was his game-high 15 rebounds. Heading into the game, Stoudemire was averaging a pedestrian seven rebounds per game but immensely stepped his game up under the glass.

3. Although the final score isn’t indicative of a dominant performance, the Knicks defense has definitely improved. They came into the game first in the league with 8.4 blocks per game and eighth in steals [8.6]. They finished with six blocks and 12 steals and outrebounded the Sixers. Douglas led all players with three thefts.


1. The early matinee start on “Family Day” was a daunting task initially. The Knicks seemed in a funk as they allowed the Sixers to post 33 points and shoot 69 percent from field in first quarter. Peekskill native Elton Brand got off to a fast start as he was his usual efficient self. He went seven-of-11 from the field and had 14 of his team-high 20 points in the first half.

2. Errant shooting all around buried the Knicks, especially from three-point land. They shot 16 percent from beyond the arc, as Douglas and Felton combined for 0-of-7 from 3. Wilson Chandler contributed to the errant shooting, going 1-of-5. As a whole, New York shot 40 percent from the field and 71 percent from the foul line.

3. Free throw ineptness was a major contributor in the loss. Although the Knicks seemed to be the more aggressive team, they shot a measly 71 percent from the foul line. Sixers’ backup point guard Louis Williams led all with 14 free throw attempts. Meanwhile, Stoudemire, who was brought over from the Phoenix Suns to be ‘the man’, let down the faithful by clanking two of his four free throw attempts down the stretch when the game was still in doubt. Franchise players knock those down.