The New York Knicks have sputtered recently, losing three of their last four with defense largely to blame.
Though Amare Stoudemire's return is grabbing attention, New York may have to look elsewhere to shore up that end of the court on Thursday night as it hosts the red-hot San Antonio Spurs, one of the league's best offensive teams.
The Knicks (21-10) still own an impressive 12-3 home record, but all three defeats have come in their last five games at Madison Square Garden. Stoudemire made his season debut there Tuesday against Portland and Carmelo Anthony tied a season high with 45 points after sitting out the previous two games, but New York couldn't overcome a 19-point deficit in a 105-100 loss.
Anthony had been out with a hyperextended left knee. Stoudemire, who averaged 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds last season, was playing for the first time since undergoing knee surgery in October.
Stoudemire scored six points on 3-of-8 shooting and grabbed one rebound, with New York getting outscored by nine during his 17 minutes off the bench.
"I felt good," said Stoudemire, averaging 23.3 points in 51 career games against the Spurs including playoffs. "The game felt like it was going 100 mph that first half. Had a couple of easy-looking shots, open shots, just a little bit rusty, wasn't able to knock those down. But the second half was better than my first half. Hopefully my second game will be better than my first game."
Stoudemire, known more for his offensive talents, isn't likely to solve the Knicks' recent defensive woes. New York allowed 96.1 points per game during its 18-5 start to the season, but it has given up 100 or more in each defeat during its current 3-5 stretch.
"Forget the offense, we scored enough points," coach Mike Woodson told the Knicks' official website Tuesday. "Defensively, we are not where we were earlier in the season. You can't keep spotting teams 20-plus point leads and think you will come back."
The Knicks are trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season, and their last two opponents have gone a combined 26 of 63 (41.3 percent) from 3-point range. San Antonio enters Thursday's game shooting 47.5 percent from beyond the arc during a season-best seven-game win streak.
The Spurs (26-8) are shooting 53.4 percent from the field and averaging 111.7 points in that run, which continued with a 117-110 win in Milwaukee on Wednesday. San Antonio scored 69 points in the first half for the second time in five days after doing it against Houston on Friday.
Tim Duncan opened Wednesday's game by knocking down three jumpers in the first three minutes and finished with 28 points, 13 rebounds and six assists as the Spurs shot better than 50 percent for the fourth game in a row.
"As his career has gone on, he has become a much better jump shooter," Milwaukee's Mike Dunleavy said. "He can beat you a lot of different ways."
Tony Parker added 23 points and 11 assists, and San Antonio could look to exploit the 30-year-old Parker's matchup against 39-year-old Jason Kidd.
Kidd was scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting against the Trail Blazers. Fellow guard Raymond Felton scored a game-high 25 points in the Knicks' 104-100 victory at San Antonio on Nov. 15, but Felton is now out with a finger injury.
New York beat the Spurs even though Anthony shot 3 of 12 and scored nine points - 20.2 below his career-best season average. The Knicks haven't won back-to-back games in this series since the 2002-03 season.