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The Knicks Can Get Some Breathing Room Tonight

MILWAUKEE, WI - March 09: Mike Dunleavy #17 of the Milwaukee Bucks shoots a layup against Iman Shumpert #21 of the New York Knicks during the game on March 9, 2012 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice:  Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Knicks did not have such a great weekend. Sure, they split — raising their winning percentage, after all — but they lost to a Toronto team that has mostly packed it up for the season and didn't play very well (particularly early on) against a Detroit team at home. If the Knicks were ever going to get back above .500 — a mark they haven't reached since January 6 (they've been at .500 eight different times this year) — this was their chance. But they have one more opportunity this week, starting tonight with a game that could either give them some room to maneuver or start making everyone feel awfully sweaty.

Tonight the Knicks host the Milwaukee Bucks, the team that happens to be chasing them for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Now, since Mike Woodson took over, the Knicks have gone 6-1, leading everybody to think that this team is on its way back and a playoff spot is somehow secured, that the real targets are the Celtics, 76ers and Hawks ahead of them. But the Knicks' playoff odds are still only 69.6 percent, and that number will go down dramatically if the Knicks lose tonight. The Bucks are currently just a game and a half behind the Knicks, and, just as importantly, they've already beaten the Knicks twice. A win tonight would secure Milwaukee the tiebreaker — they play once more, in Milwaukee, on April 11 — and make it that much more difficult for the Knicks. And I think we can all agree that, considering the investment in and lunacy of this season, missing the playoffs would be a disaster.

But a win tonight would put the Knicks in a slightly more comfortable position, allowing them to focus on the teams that should be their real targets: Philadelphia (three games back) and Boston (one and a half games back). Get ahead of those guys, and not only do you avoid the Bulls and the Heat in the first round, but you also get to host a first-round playoff series. (And, not for nothing, you get to hoist an Atlantic Division championship banner in the Garden, the first one since 1994.) The Knicks would love to have the unpleasant notion of missing the playoffs entirely behind them so they can focus on the next step up. A win against the Bucks would go a long way toward that end.

The Knicks might not be going in at full strength. Amar'e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin both were knocked around right good over the weekend. Stoudemire, worryingly, is having back issues again, and Lin is having some issues with his left knee. (Stoudemire is the less likely one to play.) The timing on their injuries — as well as that of Jared Jeffries, who will be out for another two weeks — isn't ideal, but then again, injury timing never is. The Knicks have only seventeen games remaining in the regular season. Every game is a playoff game from here on out, just to make sure there is, in fact, a playoff game.

Photo: Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images