Knicks coach Mike Woodson is feeling the heat from the top guy at the Garden. (49686)
Tim Hardway Jr. (49685)

The words and actions of the two men who, more than anyone else, carry the burden of the Knicks’ fortunes this season were ominous.

“It was embarrassing,” said Carmelo Anthony after the Knicks’ dispassionate 120-89 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

“We didn’t compete … and that’s unacceptable,” maintained an unmistakably disturbed Mike Woodson. Anthony and Woodson, circumstances and objectivity be damned, will bear the brunt of the blame if the Knicks plunge back into the state of mediocrity in which they were stuck for the better part of the past two decades.

That is why the Knicks’ defeat at the Garden on Sunday cannot be dismissed merely as an early anomaly that has little significance over the long 82-game stretch—not when they have demonstrated an inability to play defense at a level that will keep them competitive for 48 minutes while configuring an offense that lacks an identity or cohesion.

With center Tyson Chandler expected to be out until at least the latter part of December, there is a huge defensive void that the Knicks have no one on the roster to fill. So how do they stay near the .500 mark until Chandler returns and displays the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year form he showed prior to suffering a small nondisplaced fracture of his right fibula?

It is a difficult charge. When the Knicks faced the Atlanta Hawks last night (Wednesday) on the road, they were 2-4. They have the talented Houston Rockets to deal with tonight at Madison Square Garden. And for those who think Jeremy Lin has faded to black, he had 31 points in 46 minutes in a Rockets win over the Toronto Raptors on Monday.

After winning 54 games last season and finishing second in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks will not match those accomplishments this time around. And anyone who expects them to reach those milestones are delusional. What’s most important is that they remain a team that is highly respected.

That responsibility falls on Anthony and Woodson.