Knicks must find consistency at center

NEW YORK -- Mike D'Antoni half laughed and half recoiled when the question was broached, whether Ronny Turiaf had done enough to merit remaining as the starting center for the New York Knicks for the rest of the season.

Turiaf manned the middle Monday as D'Antoni changed his starting five for the third time in as many games (and the seventh time since the Carmelo Anthony trade), providing four blocks and 11 points.

Only a dozen games remain in the regular season, and D'Antoni was pointing the finger of blame at himself beforehand, saying how he needed to settle on a starting lineup and a regular rotation to help the Knicks snap out of their funk.

But the funk continued as they had their third straight 17-point fourth quarter in losing 96-86 to the Boston Celtics on Monday night, and D'Antoni equivocated afterward on the subject of his ever-changing starting fives.

"Permanently?" D'Antoni said of Turiaf before shaking his head side to side. "You know, I think our rotations are pretty good. I like what we're doing, so we'll probably stick more or less with what we're doing."

This is not the time for "more or less" answers or indecisiveness, as the impatience in New York continues to grow and the Knicks continue to falter. And one area in which D'Antoni can remove some of the unsettledness is by bringing some permanence to the lineup.

We've seen what Jared Jeffries brings, and although it is nice to have a guy who draws as many charges as he does, it is not so nice to see him with the ball in his hands on the offensive end. Against the Celtics, he shot a 3-pointer from the corner that clanged off the side of the backboard, producing a chorus of 19,763 laughs and groans mixed together.

We saw what Shelden Williams could do at the center position Sunday, when he spent six minutes in that role and missed both of his shots as the Knicks quickly fell behind the Milwaukee Bucks by 14 points. Williams never returned to that game, and he sat out all of this one, too.

We've seen what happens when Shawne Williams is moved into the starting five and Amare Stoudemire is forced to bang bodies on the defensive end with opponents' big behemoths, and it gets him into foul trouble and saps him of the energy he needs to thrive on the offensive end.

Which leaves us with Turiaf, who will never be mistaken for Wilt Chamberlain but still brings a physicality and a toughness the Knicks can't get from anyone else.

During the first 5:44 of the third quarter, he was the only Knick who scored, and in the final box score, he was the only member of the starting five who had a plus sign in the all-important plus-minus category.

"This is not about Ronny Turiaf," Turiaf said. "This is about the New York Knicks figuring out ways to win basketball games, and I think everybody that gets their name called up should take pride in doing their job to the best of our abilities.

"I feel we are getting better. The results are not showing, and it kind of reminds me of the little bump we had earlier in the season when we lost four or five [actually six] and everybody was counting us out a little bit, and then we won 13 of 14. So hopefully history can repeat itself."

But the patience and perseverance Turiaf called for are not in big supply outside the Knicks' locker room, as evidenced by the discussion between two Madison Square Garden security guards that could be heard in the concourse off Seventh Avenue an hour after the game ended, the crux of which was that D'Antoni needs to be fired.

It's laughable that such a notion exists just 16 games into the era D'Antoni bought into when he signed his four-year contract nearly three full seasons ago, but it comes with the territory.

"I'm in New York, so I expect that," team president Donnie Walsh said before the game. "You're going to be judged, quickly.

"I've asked this coach to live with two years when we were breaking the team down, and now I've asked him to put this team together after the trading deadline, and it has been very difficult for him."

D'Antoni used the word "panicked" to describe the way the team played in the fourth quarter when Stoudemire and Anthony did not have a bucket between them, the Celtics dictated the pace, and the Knicks, in D'Antoni's words, "weren't getting any good looks at all."

"We've just got a lot of work to do, but again, this is a work in progress and we've got a month to get this thing figured out," D'Antoni said. "We've got to figure something out because it's not real good right now, obviously, and there's no reason why we can't figure it out. We've got two scorers on the floor in Amare and Carmelo."

They also have a hole in the middle that needs to be filled with some degree of permanence. The final dozen games begin Wednesday night with the first of two visits from Dwight Howard in a span of six days, and the biggest, toughest body the Knicks can put on him belongs to Turiaf.

At this stage of the season, it is time for D'Antoni to make up his mind and make somebody the starter at that spot.

"Everybody right now is writing us off. Are they right? Probably so, the way we've been playing, but I hope we have confidence in each other to get out of this funk," Turiaf said. "We have what we need, man. This is not an emergency. I'd rather struggle now and figure out what we need to do instead of struggling later on when it really counts."

Some degree of normalcy might help that process along, and one way D'Antoni can provide it is by locking in on whom he is going to use, sticking with it and not treating "permanent" like a dirty word.

We shall see if he has it in him.