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A Mercurial Season Adds Another Bizarre Chapter

The fire that was missing from the court, was missing in the paint, on defense and in boxing out, suddenly came out of Amar’e Stoudemire in a hallway leading to the visitors locker room at American Airlines Arena on Monday night.

Stoudemire swung his left hand at a fire extinguisher case on the wall and stormed into the locker room in full seethe.

Then Josh Harrellson let out a scream.

“STAT!” the rookie yelled. “Your hand!”

The meaty part of Stoudemire’s left hand on the pinkie side was dripping with blood from a gruesome gash caused when Stoudemire’s hand shattered the glass window on the fire extinguisher case. Teammates were frozen in disbelief as trainers rushed to his aide. Moments later, paramedics burst into the room with a gurney.

And just like that this season produced yet another bizarre chapter. And this one possibly is the bitter ending to an exhaustingly mercurial story that had the highs of Linsanity and Mike Woodson‘s 18-6 finish to the lows of a pair of six-game losing streaks, Mike D’Antoni’s departure and Jeremy Lin‘s knee injury.

At this point, the players never know what to expect when they get to the gym each day.

“Absolutely, man,” Carmelo Anthony said in the confusing wake of the latest drama to swallow up this team. “I really don’t know how to put that in words but it’s a tough situation. It seems like there’s always something happening. Snakebit. But at this point it is what it is. We’ve got to move forward.”

They will continue this best-of-seven series with the Miami Heat by playing Game 3 on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden without Stoudemire. The team announced on Tuesday that Stoudemire was seen by a hand specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery and the surgeon repaired a small muscle.

He will miss Game 3 and is listed as doubtful for Game 4 on Sunday. His availability for the rest of the series — depending on if the Knicks can extend it beyond Sunday without him — will be reassessed after Game 4.

The Knicks, down 0-2, now have to try to end an 11-year playoff winless streak — and the indignity of consecutive first round sweeps — without their all-star power forward, who was supposed to be a reason why they could win the series, not just a game.

As if Knicks fans haven’t been through enough in these first two games, as if the 33-point loss in Game 1 wasn’t enough, as if the loss of rookie Iman Shumpert wasn’t devastating enough, as if the guffaws from the national media at the expense of their favorite team weren’t depressing enough, the player who served as the pioneer of this hope-filled new era suffered a self-inflicted wound for the second straight year.

“It’s tough,” Tyson Chandler said. “Your emotions run high and a split-second decision can obviously alter things.”

So many voices of anger right now are rightly furious with Stoudemire. So many who have asked me on Twitter if the Knicks can void the remaining three years and $60-plus million left on Stoudemire’s contract (Inconceivable, though they can — and should — fine him harshly for an act that led to him missing playoff games).

The Knicks paid him a handsome $99.7 million contract in 2010 to play in big games, not to miss them.

[Yes, this was a contract that most teams, including the Phoenix Suns, wouldn’t dare give him. But the suggestion that no other team than the Knicks would have been willing to take him for that number is false. Consider that Stoudemire cut off meetings with other teams, including the Nets, after his visit to New York.

Those who bemoan the insurance factor are also missing the point. The concern was supposed to be in Stoudemire’s knees, which have yet to be an issue. His back was a new injury, caused by an unnecessary attempt at a spectacular dunk in pregame warm-ups before Game 2 last year in Boston. This was not a preexisting condition, so how does insurance even factor in here?]

Stoudemire’s Kevin Brown/Doyle Alexander moment on Monday night was inexcusable and unforgivable, but let’s not churn too much in the sanctimonious rhetoric. Let he who never once regrettably smashed something in anger — and don’t tell me you didn’t during the second quarter of Game 1 — cast the first stone.

“I’m so mad at myself right now,” Stoudemire posted on his Twitter account — apparently he’s a one-hand typer — on Monday night. “I want to apologize to the fans and my team, not proud of my actions, headed home for a new start.”

He added Tuesday morning, “We have all done thing [sic] out of anger that we regret. That makes us human. Bad timing on my part. Sorry guys. This to [sic] shall pass.”

Teammates have just as much reason as fans to be infuriated with Stoudemire, who made it even tougher for this team to even win a game in this series (and end an NBA-record 12-game playoff losing streak).

“You can’t fault anybody,” Chandler said. “I’m obviously a person that has high emotions at times, so, one quick decision, make a mistake and now you’ve got to deal with the repercussions.”

I prefer to remain more upset at his lack of defensive focus and rebounding determination, which won’t heal the way the hand will eventually heal.

The senseless act that followed after the game was over — when it was too late to get mad — wound up only compounding his frustrations and the added emotion of the tragic loss of his brother, which is not something we can just simply dismiss. This was brewing from a toxic blend of a reality that his Knicks haven’t played at the same level as the Heat in the first two games of this series along with an underlying exasperation of being lost in an offense (he had just nine shots in Game 2, seven in Game 1) that the Heat have completely handcuffed. And let’s face it, Chris Bosh, whom Dwyane Wade and LeBron James chose to join them over Stoudemire in Miami, continues to outplay him.

The Knicks now have to win without him, which is something they did after he went out of the lineup with a bulging disc on March 26, when Melo moved to the power forward spot and started lighting up the NBA. But that was when Shumpert had a healthy knee and opposing scorers on lockdown. To believe the Knicks can make it a series against the Heat without Shumpert and Stoudemire — and let’s not forget the absence of a third starter, Lin — is to be illogically intoxicated with optimism.

But this is, of course, why you keep watching.

“Regardless of what happened, we’ve got to protect home floor,” said Chandler, who may soon learn he is the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. “A series really doesn’t start until somebody loses on their home floor… We’ve got to bring the series back here and see what happens from there.”

RIP “FUZZY”

Rest in Peace, Andrew “Fuzzy” Levane, who died Monday at the age of 92.

Most of the younger Knicks fans may have no idea who he is, but Levane might be one of the most important figures in Knicks history. Levane, who was a star guard at St. John’s in the early 1940s, was an original NBA player (when the league was called the Basketball Association of America). It was with the Rochester Royals (today known as the Sacramento Kings) where Levane teamed up with a fellow New York City high school standout, William “Red” Holzman.

Levane went from player to coach with the Milwaukee Hawks in 1952, where he played with and coached Holzman, who later replaced Levane as the head coach from 1954-57. When Levane was hired to coach the Knicks in 1958, he insisted to Garden president Ned Irish that Holzman join him as an assistant coach and team scout. It was a move that had a huge impact on the future of the franchise.

Holzman almost quit pro basketball before Levane convinced him to come to the Knicks. As the team’s head scout, Holzman helped build the championship-era Knicks through the draft — Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Phil Jackson, Cazzie Russell and Dave Stallworth, to name a few — and then took over as head coach in 1967. With a roster of Hall of Fame players built on a defensive-minded foundation and self-less “Find the Open Man” philosophy, Holzman won two NBA championships with the Knicks, won 613 games and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Levane coached the St. Louis Hawks but later, at Holzman’s request, returned to the Knicks organization as a scout and remained with the team for many years. I got to know him — and enjoy his endless stories about basketball and the Knicks — as a young reporter in the 1990s while hanging around minor league circuits such as the Continental Basketball Association and the United States Basketball League. It was there, by the way, that Levane saw enough in John Starks and Anthony Mason to implore the Knicks to offer both training camp invitations.

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