For even the most hardened, pessimistic and self-loathing fans, the 2013-14 Knicks are beginning to strain credulity. Things were no different this week than they were before the All Star break: the Knicks went 1-4 as they continue to careen out of playoff contention.

First the Knicks lost a tough one to the Grizzlies in Memphis (98-93). They managed to rebound with a 98-91 win over the Pelicans in New Orleans, thanks to Carmelo Anthony's 42 points but followed that up with an embarrassing double overtime loss to the 17-40 Magic (129-121) and a stinker against the Hawks the next night (107-98). The Knicks were no doubt happy to return home to host the Mavericks on Monday and played a spirited game against Dirk Nowitzki and his crew. Of course, this happened:

Pretty much sums it up.

The Knicks are 21-36, in eleventh place and five and a half games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. If they keep up this pace they will match the franchise record for largest drop-off in wins from the previous season with 23, a mark currently held by the 1984-85 team. EXCEPT THAT TEAM WAS TANKING FOR THE CHANCE TO DRAFT PATRICK EWING. This team, incredibly, is trying to win. It just can't.

It was all on display: getting killed by seemingly random forwards (Mike Miller, Tobias Harris, DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott, Vince Carter) and many, many guards (Mike Conley, Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, Victor Oladipo, Arron Afflalo, Jeff Teague), trends no doubt worsened by the absences of Iman Shumpert, who sprained a knee against New Orleans and is out for two weeks, and Kenyon Martin, who's out indefinitely with an ankle injury. There was the usual squandering of leads (up five with less than three to play against Memphis, up fourteen late in the third against Orlando, up eleven late in the third against Atlanta). There was the now-typical yet still baffling inability to execute down the stretch as the Knicks went iso-Melo just before Nowitzki made his game winner and couldn't even get a decent shot off.

There were also the usual off-the-court issues, some more serious than others. The front office was unable to find a suitable deal involving Iman Shumpert, who they wanted to use to unload Raymond Felton and his undesirable though relatively insignificant contract. That might be for the best as the Knicks are sure to have a new coach next season, one who might actually be interested in developing Shumpert's considerable potential. Still, some fans were frustrated by the Knicks' failure to make a deal despite having so many needs.

Following the passage of the trade deadline the Knicks bought out the contracts of Beno Udrih and Ron Artest, two of their most significant free agent acquisitions just this past summer. Failing to get anything out of Udrih and Artest, whether due to their being incapable or Mike Woodson's rigidity or what, sums up the difference between this year's Knicks and last year's: it seemed like the 2012-13 Knicks could have dusted off Danny Schayes and Tree Rollins and gotten significant minutes or locker room contributions from them. This year's Knicks just got Ron Artest's brother's twitter account.

Much more serious is the news that Raymond Felton was arrested on gun charges following the Knicks' loss to the Mavericks on Monday evening. Felton's struggled all year and has been the subject of a great deal of ire, most of it justified. But seeing him in handcuffs on the news was hard for anyone who has been watching him the last few years. Word is he's going to be able to finish the season with the team although he may be looking at some jail time after that.

Returning to basketball, there were, as usual, wasted Carmelo Anthony performances (he averaged 37.4 points a game and shot 50.4% from the field over the week's five games). Casual fans and constipated purists might put the blame for this season on Anthony, but the truth is that he's having a fantastic season, perhaps the best of his career. Even as his team has eroded around him his numbers haven't missed a beat (28.2 points a game this season, 28.7 last season; .454 field goal percentage this year, .449 last; a torrid .426 percentage from three this year, up almost five percent from last season), all while averaging a career high 8.6 rebounds per game.

Sure, Anthony's numbers drop in the fourth quarter (he scores 8.2 points on 49.3% shooting in the first and 6.2 points on 37.4% shooting in the fourth), but maybe that's because he leads the league in minutes per game at 39.1 and the Knicks have hardly any other late-game options.

Anthony is often compared to Paul Pierce, and that comparison is apt. Pierce, like Melo, had a decent amount of success in the playoffs early in his career (a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals with Antoine Walker, a second round exit and a couple of first round losses for Pierce; a few first round exits with both teams, a trip to the conference finals with Chauncey Billups in Denver, a second round exit in New York for Melo) followed by a lull (what Pierce experienced after Walker left and the Celtics began to rebuild; what Melo's going through now).

Pierce, like Melo this year, had arguably the best individual season of his career in a down year for the Celtics as he averaged 26.8, 6.7 boards and 4.7 assists for the 33-49 C's in 2005-06 (at the age of 28; Melo is 29, close enough). As if the comparison needed some kind of symbolic kicker, the second leading scorer on that Celtics team was Ricky Davis. For Melo and the '13-14 Knicks, it's JR Smith.

Pierce, a player no one was describing as a "winner" back then, picked up Rajon Rondo as a running mate that summer (the Knicks having drafted Renaldo Balkman one pick prior) and suffered through one more dismal season in Boston before Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen showed up and the Big Three led the Celtics to a title, their first since Larry Bird left town. The Paul Pierce that Allen and Garnett played with wasn't the same guy he was before the losing started. The Big Three became winners together, no doubt motivated by all the losing they had done in their careers and appreciative of the opportunity to play together.

It's not clear whether Melo, about to miss the playoffs for the first time in his career, will stay in New York past this season and, if he does, whether the dysfunctional Knicks will find a way to add the pieces necessary to win a championship (although don't forget the Celtics were a laughingstock then and couldn't get KG to come to town until they added Allen, Pierce and Rondo weren't enough). But Pierce's career is instructive both for the blueprint (add a few young pieces - ahem, Tim Hardaway Jr. - be patient, add talent that brings out the best in the star you already have) and for the perspective: don't judge Carmelo Anthony just yet. This might be a turning point.

Up Next: The Knicks travel to Miami tomorrow to take on the Heat before hosting Golden State at MSG on Friday. One way or another, there'll be plenty of entertainment.

You can follow Jonathan Fishner on Twitter @therealkingfish, and check out his blog The Real King Fish.