If there's one thing the Knicks have on their side right now, it's the element of surprise. They scored a surprising 99-88 win over Philadelphia with Allan Houston and Keith Van Horn out with injuries Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, and with the Knicks' two leading scorers questionable for tonight's game in Boston, the lineup and playing rotation once again will be a mystery.
Swingman Shandon Anderson was the natural choice to replace Houston, but Knicks coach Don Chaney shifted power forward Clarence Weatherspoon to Van Horn's small forward spot. At times, Chaney also used power forward Othella Harrington at small forward or moved Anderson to that spot in a lineup with two point guards.
If it sounds confusing, it is for the Knicks, too. Anderson, who was the surprise hero of the win over the 76ers with 20 points, laughed at the mention of some of the strange alignments Chaney has been forced to put on the floor so far this season.
"You just try to get in where you fit in," Anderson said. "That's the motto around here. It's like you never know where you're going to play, but if you're out there on the court, you're happy."
There's an outside possibility that Houston (sore lower back) will play against the Celtics, but Van Horn (sprained right ankle) is almost certain to miss his fourth straight game. Antonio McDyess (left knee surgery) is inching closer to a comeback but probably needs at least one more practice tomorrow and maybe more.
All the uncertainty has had an unsettling effect on Chaney and the Knicks (4-9) as they search for answers that change on a game-to-game basis.
"We're definitely still looking for an identity," backup center Michael Doleac said. "It's been difficult because it's early in the year and we've had guys out with injuries, and we're still waiting for Antonio to come back. There's always question marks, but you've just got to play through that and accept it and play as hard as you can when you're out there.
"Guys didn't know how it was going to be [against Philadelphia]. I don't think the coaches knew what the rotation was going to be, not having Allan out there. He was just reading who was playing well."
The thing that pleased Chaney most about the win over the 76ers was the way his players rebounded and played defense, which gave them a chance to attack in transition on the offensive end. It's the style he's been preaching since taking over as head coach almost two years ago.
"I hope we found our game," Chaney said. "I enjoy playing this way. I grew up playing like this, and that's how I want us to play. But we have to understand that we have to give up a lot to play this way. You have to be selfless. I thought our guys did that. They passed the ball very well to each other."
If the Knicks can bottle some of the energy and aggressiveness they showed against the Sixers and apply it when Houston, Van Horn and McDyess are healthy, maybe they can find a blend that gives them the best of both worlds. At least, the win supplied some momentum for the three-game road trip that begins tonight in Boston and continues Wednesday at Minnesota and Thanksgiving night at Indiana.
"This is a big road trip for us," Anderson said. "We need to come out of it with two or three wins. We're putting ourselves into a deep, deep hole. It's going to be a tough battle. Nobody expected us to [beat the Sixers]. But we won, and that's the same way we're going out on the road."
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