Pelicans 110, Knicks 96: With Derrick Rose Inexplicably Absent, Knicks Fall to Pelicans

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Derrick Rose’s white No. 25 Knicks jersey hung from a coat hanger, pristine and unwrinkled. His Ace bandages were unwrapped and unrolled, still in their place. His locker was undisturbed.

Though the Knicks had taken the Madison Square Garden court Monday night, en route to a 110-96 loss to the Pelicans in what may have been their season’s nadir, Rose did not play. He did not even appear at the arena for the game. No one knew where he was — or at least no one would say.

Just a few minutes before Monday night’s tipoff against New Orleans, the Knicks made a cryptic announcement: Rose would not start because he was not with the team. The Knicks offered no word about where he might be. He had been at the team shootaround that morning but had not shown up for the game.

Afterward, Coach Jeff Hornacek offered no additional information about Rose’s absence, but he did say the Knicks expected Rose to return to the team.

“We’re not going to go into it,” Hornacek said. “Everything will become clear later on. We want to respect whatever he’s going through, and we’re just not going to comment on it.”

Joakim Noah, a friend and longtime teammate with the Bulls, offered the only clear information: Rose was O.K. Noah said he had talked to Rose after the loss but declined to reveal anything else from their conversation. The rest of Rose’s teammates remained in the dark.

“We don’t know what’s going on, obviously,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “I hope Derrick is fine. I have zero information about what’s going on.”

Brandon Jennings learned 40 minutes before the game that he would take Rose’s spot in the starting lineup. After the game, he was worried.

“Definitely concerned. Definitely a situation I’ve never been in. I just hope everything is all right,” Jennings said. “He’s a big part of this team, our starting point guard, so I just hope everything is all right.”

Still unclear was what would have led Rose to skip a game without an explanation. It was also uncertain whether his actions had anything to do with the team’s declining fortunes.

The Knicks have now lost eight of their last nine games, their only victory in that span coming last Friday night in Milwaukee, when Hornacek benched Rose for the entire fourth quarter and played the undrafted rookie Ron Baker in his place. Baker proceeded to lead the Knicks to a rousing comeback victory, and played the entire fourth again Saturday. It was not the first instance this season in which Hornacek has sat Rose late in a game, but the circumstances on Friday, with Baker a hero and Rose cast aside, could have weighed on Rose — though Hornacek said that it was not an issue between them.

Yet, with Rose’s unexplained absence, and with Carmelo Anthony and Kyle O’Quinn getting ejected, the Garden was permeated with the sense of a team descending into chaos. Rose was one of the Knicks’ principal additions in the off-season, with the Knicks hoping he could help Anthony guide the organization back to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. But the Knicks are 17-21 and at risk of falling too far out of the playoff race even in an Eastern Conference with a soft underbelly.

Rose and Anthony, the two players who are supposed to be their veteran leaders, instead have drawn questions about their behavior. And that in turn may create uncomfortable issues for Phil Jackson, who in his third full season as the Knicks’ president has yet to demonstrate he can create a competitive team.

Rose’s absence overwhelmed what was a horrid night over all for the Knicks. They had set out to sweep the five games that began with Friday night’s win in Milwaukee but instead lost a second straight game.

Their defense, to no surprise, was again an issue. The Pelicans hit 48 percent of their shots, and Anthony Davis, their star, was prolific. He scored 40 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in just 29 minutes.

By the end of the third, Anthony and O’Quinn had been ejected, and even the prolonged appearance of Baker could not keep the restless Knicks fans from raining boos onto the court.

The Knicks were down only by 9 points at the half — though they once again allowed 60 points before intermission — but were outscored by 16 points in the third quarter, setting up another long and drawn-out fourth.

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The fireworks for the Knicks, however, came in that third quarter. Anthony was thrown out of the game with 2 minutes 34 seconds remaining in the period. It was the third time that the Knicks star had been ejected this season — an N.B.A. high. O’Quinn soon followed, drawing a flagrant-2 for his foul on Davis, who left for the locker room and did not return. Anthony did not speak after the game, leaving without addressing the media.

“I feel like once we figure out the defensive part, then we can go up,” Porzingis said. “Right now, we can’t go lower, really. We’re in a tough spot right now. We can only go up right now.”

Rose’s absence lingered over the team during the game. His fourth-quarter benchings over the weekend were most likely the low point in his debut season with the Knicks, although he has been benched in other fourth quarters this season. He entered the season after missing a significant part of training camp because he was a defendant in a civil suit alleging sexual assault. He was ultimately found not liable.

Though he has missed four games because of a back spasms, Rose has remained relatively healthy this year after injuries wrecked his final seasons in Chicago. The Knicks acquired him last summer as a one-year reclamation project before he hit free agency, and he has played well enough, averaging 17.3 points per game and shooting 44.3 percent from the field.

He has been a valuable cog for the Knicks, and now they await for his return, whenever that will be. Hornacek said he expected Rose to be back with the team but could not offer much more than that.

“When Derrick comes back, if he’s got any comments, he’ll comment on that,” he said. “We’re not going to talk about it.”

(Why?)

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