(AP) — Adding Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups has certainly sparked the New York Knicks offensively. It’s been their defensive play that’s been the major problem.

Potentially missing Billups may exacerbate those issues.

The Knicks may need to overcome the absence of their point guard to show some improvement defensively, as they try to beat the sputtering New Orleans Hornets for the sixth consecutive time Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

New York (30-28) has split four games since acquiring Anthony and Billups in a three-team, 13-player trade from Denver on Feb. 22. Anthony is averaging 27.0 points and 7.8 rebounds, while Billups has 23.3 points and 6.0 assists per game since the move. That’s helped the Knicks average 106.0 points in that stretch, but they’re allowing 106.3.

Those defensive troubles were evident during Tuesday’s 116-110 loss at Orlando. New York squandered an 11-point halftime lead by getting outscored 69-52 in the second half while allowing the Magic to hit 13 of 19 shots in the fourth quarter.

“I don’t like to make excuses, but not being together on the defensive end, not practicing, not getting the repetitions … I think it gets confusing out there at times. That will come with time,” Anthony said after making 8 of 24 shots for 25 points Tuesday.

Gaining some familiarity could be difficult since Billups is questionable after leaving in the fourth quarter Tuesday with a left thigh bruise.

New York’s lax defensive play has been a theme in three seasons under coach Mike D’Antoni. The team is allowing 106.6 points per game since he was hired, fewer than only Golden State’s league-worst 110.7 over that stretch.

“We’ll have to tighten up a lot of things,” D’Antoni said, also referring to the Knicks’ shooting 38.0 percent – 25.0 from 3-point range – over the last two games. “We’ll have to get a little bit better without a doubt.”

Anthony was limited to 3-for-11 shooting and eight points in a 96-87 loss to New Orleans with the Nuggets on Jan. 9. He had averaged 28.0 points and 12.8 boards over the previous four meetings.

Amar’e Stoudemire, third in the NBA at 26.0 points per game, could make a major difference versus the Hornets (35-27). The forward-center is averaging 31.7 points and 11.3 rebounds over his last three games against them.

Stoudemire scored 34 points with 10 boards to power a 100-92 win at New Orleans on Dec. 3, as the Knicks extended their winning streak in the series to five.

The Hornets have dropped 11 of 15 after their spiral continued with Tuesday’s 96-90 loss at last-place Toronto.

Chris Paul has struggled greatly over the last two games – both losses – making 5 of 22 shots while missing all four 3-point attempts to total 13 points. He’s hit just 4 of 23 from beyond the arc over the last 10 games, averaging 12.4 points.

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Paul said. “I’m getting a lot of shots. A lot of shots are right there. I think I’ve got to find a rhythm or something like that, find a way to get some easy baskets.”

The All-Star point guard is averaging 25.6 points and 10.4 assists his last five visits to New York.

Updated March 2, 2011
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pixy Knicks May Be Without Billups Vs. Hornets

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