For Allan, knee & truth hurt

LOS ANGELES - Allan Houston wears enough ice to stock a wet bar. After games, his knees and lower back are all covered with packs of the stuff. And this season Houston has skipped a handful of practices just to rest to his aching body. When a friend recently mentioned to the veteran shooting guard that his pre- and postgame rituals were starting to resemble those of Patrick Ewing, an aging Patrick Ewing that is, Houston did not appreciate the comparison.
"Is it that bad?" he asked.

Today, Houston can answer that question for himself. A four-game skid and a meeting with Shaquille O'Neal and the Lakers tomorrow night at Staples Center are the least of the Knicks' problems. Their main concern continues to be Houston's health, which hasn't improved since the start of the season.

Houston, the Knicks' leading scorer, missed Saturday's 104-92 loss to the Golden State Warriors due to soreness in his surgically repaired right knee. He had arthroscopic surgery on June 10.

Houston, who did not play in the preseason, is hopeful that with rest the swelling will go down and that he will be available tomorrow. The Knicks have listed him as questionable. But Houston also expressed frustration over how to go about treating his knee: rest it and miss more games or continue playing with pain and risk further damage.

"I've never been faced with a situation where (it's), 'Do I sit out, or do I play?' " Houston said Saturday. "And it bothers me because I really don't know what to do sometimes.

"Should I play or should I sit out? Do I sit out for a couple of games? Me, I've always been the type of person that if you can play you just play. I've never been in a situation where you have to sit out and rest for it to get better. It's very confusing for me right now."

Houston received treatment yesterday at the team hotel in Marina Del Rey. He is currently not scheduled to have an X-ray or MRI.

"I'm not worried," he said. "It definitely has felt better. It's a .little swollen. I don't think it's a matter of it being damaged. It's a little swollen and once I rest a .little bit it will be fine."

Houston takes pride in being durable and playing with pain. In his first seven years in New York, he missed just 10 games. But now he's 32 and the years are starting to take their toll.

He's already missed three games this season, including consecutive games in late November because of a lower back strain. He also sat out the fourth quarter of a Nov. 3 win over Orlando with back pain.

Houston was bothered by knee soreness for most of last season and eventually needed surgery. He sat out all eight preseason games and although he was ready for the opener, he is clearly struggling. Houston tried to play against the Warriors but pulled himself out after failing to get loose during warmups.

The Knicks are 2-1 without Houston, with wins against Philadelphia and Boston. Shandon Anderson has played well as a starter but the long-term prognosis for the Knicks without Houston, their fourth-quarter go-to guy, is not good. They better hope the prognosis for Houston is more encouraging.

"What I'm going to do is just trust that it will get better," said Houston, who is in the third season of a six-year, $100 million contract. "I'm confused but one thing I do know is that it will get better, I'm very confident of that. It's tough when we're going through this period and I'm not feeling well because I feel I can help the team if I felt better."

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