Rockets Walk on Knicks 111-79

Friday, January 9th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Chants of ``Fire Chaney'' echoed through Madison Square Garden on a night that was supposed to be all about Stephon Marbury's home debut and Jeff Van Gundy's return.

In a game that quickly turned into a blowout, Van Gundy's Houston Rockets scored 23 of the game's first 25 points to humiliate the revamped New York Knicks 111-79 Thursday night.

``It's a good chant. We stunk,'' said coach Don Chaney, whose team dropped its fourth straight to fall further behind in the weak Atlantic Division.

Earlier, as the scoreboard read 23-2, the buzz had already turned into boos and soon the fans let Chaney have it.

In the night's only other game, Minnesota beat Portland 96-75.

Chaney's coaching record with the Knicks now stands at 71-111, and his job security figures to become more shaky if the Knicks can't turn things around quickly following several major changes by new team president Isiah Thomas.

The first ``Fire Chaney'' chant began with 6:49 remaining in the first quarter after the Knicks fell behind 19-2, and the chant was revived and got louder several times.

Marbury played poorly for the second straight game, scoring six points on 3-for-12 shooting. His lowlight came late in the third quarter when he went up softly on a two-on-one break and had his layup rejected on a spectacular leap by Steve Francis.

``I would never think it would happen this bad,'' Marbury said. ``We cannot dwell on this. After a win, this all goes away.''

Francis dominated the point guard matchup, scoring 27 points with six assists and three steals. Every Houston starter reached double figures, with Jim Jackson getting 21, Yao Ming scoring 15, Cuttino Mobley adding 14 and Kelvin Cato 10. The victory margin matched Houston's largest of the season.

``Awful, awful,'' Chaney said. ``We played like strangers at both ends of the floor.''

The Rockets made their first seven shots and eventually went ahead 23-2 after Francis dribbled through three defenders for a virtually uncontested layup. Marbury did not have an assist in the first quarter, and he didn't make his first basket until converting a tip-in with 10 seconds left in a first quarter that ended with the Rockets ahead 31-14.

Van Gundy shook his head in disgust midway through the second quarter as the ``Fire Chaney'' chant broke out again. Van Gundy never endured that kind of treatment from the New York fans when he was the Knicks coach _ even after he quit with two seasons remaining on his contract.

When he first returned to the Garden on the night the Knicks retired Patrick Ewing's number, Van Gundy got the second-loudest ovation.

``The chant was totally unfair,'' he said. ``We know all about the good part of coaching. In New York, that (the chant) is the bad part. That game had nothing to do with coaching.''

Van Gundy received another warm ovation before this game, sitting stone-faced on the bench while the crowd cheered. But that reception paled in comparison to the one Marbury received during player introductions.

``Our fans were ready to be very supportive tonight and we just didn't get the job done,'' Knicks forward Kurt Thomas said.

Marbury had the initials TYT written on his ankle tape, an acronym for ``Take Your Time.'' But with Thomas trying to make more personnel moves and the fans already targeting Marbury's coach, patience at the Garden is in short supply.

More than half the crowd was gone by the time the final buzzer sounded and Van Gundy knocked fists with Ewing, one of his assistants, before walking off wearing a satisfied smirk.

``I was ready to go,'' Chaney said, ``and I was surprised our guys didn't get up for a game that had a playoff-type atmosphere.''

Timberwolves 96, Trail Blazers 75

At Minneapolis, Kevin Garnett had 26 points and 14 rebounds, and Latrell Sprewell scored 25 points to lead Minnesota over travel-weary Portland.

Sam Cassell added 10 points and 11 assists for Minnesota, which has won 14 of 17 and seven straight at home.

Zach Randolph scored 19 points for the Blazers, who did not arrive in Minneapolis until 3:15 a.m. due to hazardous weather conditions in Portland. The lack of rest translated into sluggish play and 41 percent shooting, as the Blazers fell to 1-13 on the road.