Originally created 02/11/99

Spre-less Knicks look to old characteristics



NEW YORK -- Now that they've lost Latrell Sprewell, the new Knicks will start looking more like the old Knicks.

Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby will fill the role formerly occupied by Charles Oakley, and Dennis Scott will do his best to be a latter-day John Starks, or Chris Mills.

"That's the bad thing about this, we traded two guys who came off the bench last year who were pretty good shooters and scorers," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said Wednesday as his team prepared to play the Washington Wizards. "Our strength is going to have to be things that can be consistent every night -- defense and rebounding."

Off to an 0-2 start when Sprewell was healthy, New York now must get through the next 3-6 weeks without him.

That should mean more of the old style offense -- dumping the ball inside to Patrick Ewing or Larry Johnson and letting Allan Houston score from the perimeter.

Thomas, a power forward, replaced Sprewell in the starting lineup against the Wizards, and Larry Johnson moved from power forward to small forward -- the spot Sprewell was playing.

Sprewell, who has a slight stress fracture of the right heel, will rest the injury for three weeks before it is reevaluated.

"This is my first injury ever," Sprewell said, adding that it wouldn't have kept him from playing if this was playoff time. "With the way the fans have accepted me, I almost feel I'm letting them down, so it's more disappointing than frustrating."

Thomas, signed as a free agent during training camp, has been ahead of Camby on the depth chart since the day he arrived. Not as good of a jump shooter or foul shooter as Oakley, Thomas nonetheless should be able to provide the rebounding Oakley contributed before he was traded last summer for Camby.

Camby's work ethic and conditioning were criticized during training camp by his teammates and coach, and he played only six minutes in New York's first two games and did not score.

"We're not a big, strong physical type of defensive team," Van Gundy said, "but you can still be a good defensive team without as many physical players if you still have a presence in the lane.

"That's why I've been a little disappointed that we haven't made it known that the lane is ours," Van Gundy said.

Scott, who reported to camp somewhat out of shape, played seven minutes in New York's season-opener and did not score. He and Chris Childs will now be counted on to be the Knicks' primary scorers off the bench.

"Hopefully I can come off the bench and start popping shots (like Starks) and the crowd will fall in love with me," Scott said.

After playing Thursday at Chicago, the Knicks will be off until Monday.