by Russ Bengtson

I thought the circus had left town.

Really, I did.

When the Knicks sent Isiah Thomas off to Siberia and brought in Pacers architect Donnie Walsh and offensive guru Mike D’Antoni, I thought they were just getting started. Certainly the next to go would be Stephon Marbury, the dark yin to Isiah’s, uh, yin in the imbalanced Knick universe. Or maybe it would be 300-pound albatross Jerome James, who’s played in all of 88 games since signing on with the Knicks in the summer of ’05, and belongs in an uptempo attack the way a front-end loader belongs in the Indy 500.

Nope.

Instead, the franchise which once did everything but shoot hundred-dollar bills into the stands suddenly became frugal. No buyouts. So here we are, three games into what was supposed to be a new start, reading the same old headlines and the same old stories. Déjà vu all over again. It’s like those Frank TV ads, but 10,000,000 times worse.

So for these game notes at least, the past is literally prologue. Fantastic.

The latest word is that Walsh will sit down with Marbury and D’Antoni this week to figure something out. Wow, no one thought to do that in September? The way I see it, they have two choices. Either buy him out or play him. Because this isn’t just going to blow over. If Marbury continues to sit on the bench—and the Knicks continue to lose—he remains the focus of attention. He’ll just sit there happily earning his $250,000 a game. If they buy him out and he succeeds somewhere else, so what? At least they’ll have moved on.

Look, the biggest Knick acquisition this summer was D’Antoni, right? Thus, the best thing to do would be to give him the players he needs—or at least wants—to implement his system. Because otherwise this is has the potential to turn into another Larry Brown situation. And I don’t think anyone wants that.

Sigh, this is depressing. Let’s talk about the game.

PREGAME

Richard Jefferson is sitting in his locker sorting out tickets. He seems content enough to be a member of the Bucks—and why not? Sure he doesn’t live in NYC full-time anymore (although he kept his place here and spent a good part of the summer here), but the Bucks have as a good shot at the playoffs as his old team.

Was Tyronn Lue the founding member of the “cut off the braids and look 10 years younger” club? (Incidentally, that means Tyronn looks like he’s roughly three years old these days.) It was either him or Jermaine O’Neal, I believe. I keep waiting to see AI with a fade.

Jerome James, activated because Eddy Curry got the Mrs. Butterworth drained from his knee, is out there working hard pre-game. Seriously. He’s setting screens and rolling hard to the basket, throwing down monster dunks, then rolling out and shooting high-arcing jumpers with a surprisingly soft touch. The only clue that he hasn’t played many meaningful minutes in the past century are his shoes, a pair of archaic Uptempos that might very well be left over from his Sonic days.

Spike Lee comes in while Jerome’s working, Obama sweater in full m-fing effect.

Layup line highlight = Joe Alexander.

GAMETIME

Starters. For the visitors it’s Jefferson, Charlie Villanueva, Andrew Bogut, Ramon Sessions and Michael Redd. And for the Knicks, it’s David Lee, Quentin Richardson, Zach Randolph, Jamal Crawford and Chris Duhon. Duhon being introduced last is just plain weird.

The problems start almost immediately as Lee commits his first foul less than 10 seconds in, and on their next possession the Knicks burn 22 seconds before turning it over. What would Jack McCallum think?

Five minutes in, the Bucks are up 12-7.

Less than halfway through the quarter, Wilson Chandler, Nate Robinson and Malik Rose have replaced Randolph, Richardson and Lee.

The public address announcer is calling Luc Richard Mbah a Moute “Luc Richard Mbah a Moute,” and he’s saying it more often than you might think. He’s also the early leader for “best jersey in the L.”

Nate Robinson drives, more or less gives it to Bogut, and unnecessarily fouls him on top of it. That’s two. Exit Nate, enter Mardy Collins.

Bucks lead 27-23 after 1.

There’s a “DE-FENSE” chant less than a minute into the second.

Hey, it’s Charlie Bell! He’s wearing some nondescript New Balances and the biggest knee brace I’ve ever seen.

7:46 in, and we’re tied up at 31.

Celeb row tonight includes Roy Jones, Jr. and Michael Rapaport.

Anthony Roberson makes his regular-season Madison Square Garden debut at 3:37 and hits his first three in seven seconds or less. Who needs Patrick Ewing, Jr?

The New York Marathon was today, and all four winners (wheelchair and non) are present and accounted for. Paula Radcliffe, the women’s winner, is wearing heels. Unbelievable.

Chris Duhon has an unfortunate habit of driving the lane, stopping on the baseline, picking up his dribble, then firing the ball back out to a perimeter shooter. This is unfortunate. One of Steve Nash’s finer talents has always been his ability to dribble into the lane, curl underneath the basket, then bring the ball back out, instantly re-setting the offense. Someone needs to get Duhon some tapes.

After another Roberson three, the Bucks lead 49-45 at the half.

SECOND HALF

Three minutes, Bucks 9-0 run, 58-45. That must have been some pep talk.

Out of the ensuing time out, Crawford misses a contested jumper, and Michael Redd comes back down and slings in a three. Make that 61-45.

Richardson hits a pair of driving layups, the Knicks get it back to 10, and yet the inevitable (but small) “WE WANT MARBURY” chant starts, despite the fact that he’s in street clothes and won’t get in the game unless there’s some kind of major rules change. Then again, I have no doubt he’d shoot better in his civvies than Mardy Collins does in uniform. Some of Mardy’s shots are lucky to hit the floor.

Michael Redd fixes the whole “hey, we’re within 10” thing with a corner J and a dish to Jefferson underneath.

There’s a bit of a scrum for a loose ball where Redd comes up limping and Bogut comes up with a dunk. The Knicks respond with a three as Redd tries to walk it off on the sideline, but it’s still a 13-point game. Exit Redd.

End of three, Bucks up 75-61. The Knicks have taken 28 three-pointers and not connected on many of them. Jamal Crawford has yet to hit a field goal.

Fourth quarter! Knicks are 4, 5, 11, 21, 31 and the Bucks are 7, 12, 24, 31, 42. If you add those together, the Bucks are WAY ahead.

Lee checks in for Rose. He’s got zero points and one rebound. Q gets him a layup right away, which is nice.

Richardson hits a pair of back-to-back threes, Nate hits a floater in the lane, and all of a sudden it’s a seven-point game with eight minutes to go. Don’t get excited.

Lee misses bunny, Randolph replaces Lee.

Incidentally, the Knicks have missed roughly 483 shots from less than two feet away. They’ve also missed quite a few from 23 feet away. And they haven’t been all that great in between, either. Other than that it’s been a fantastic game.

The FUSE tune of the game is “Calabria” by Enur, a touching tribute to former Tar Heel Dante Calabria.

With 4:30 to go, the boos rain down like, uh, rain.

Q and Z-Bo hit threes down the stretch—Q actually hits a pair and winds up with 28 points—but it’s not enough. Hey, that sounds familiar! Final score, 94-86 Bucks.

POSTGAME

Scott Skiles says a bunch of stuff about forcing teams to decide whether to double or not by going inside early and that Ramon Sessions has played very, very, very well. He also bumps into me in the locker room and apologizes.

Over on the losing side, I only want to find out one thing—what state Malik Rose is registered to vote in. He’s wearing a black “I’m voting for ‘that one’” Obama t-shirt, and has a grey UNDRCRWN Obama hoodie hanging in his locker. Obviously he’s a Bob Barr supporter. (The answer is Texas.)

Jared Jeffries’s locker is filled with orange Gatorade coolers. It seems that his rehab includes a lot of rehydration. This hyperbaric chamber is making me thirsty!

David Lee more or less takes responsibility for the loss. It’s not really his fault, but it’s a nice gesture.

Jerome James, who didn’t play a single minute, is sitting in his locker, still in his uniform, knees iced, looking decidedly unhappy.

Someone mentions to Q-Rich that the Knicks only seem to play with a sense of urgency when they’re down. Q doesn’t even argue the point. “We gotta figure out how to start that way and maintain it.” Great! When?

Danilo Gallinari, chillin’ list victim, is wearing some kind of fitted white cotton jacket. How to describe it? “That’s that European sh*t!” Thanks Nate!

Chris Duhon sets some sort of cliché record by throwing out “bumps in the road,” “not gonna change overnight” and a few variations on the “aren’t going smoothly” theme in a span of less than a minute. I refrain from asking “hey, how far ahead are you guys looking these days?

Charlotte’s in town Wednesday. Maybe by then something will have changed. I won’t hold my breath.