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The Knicks Can Breathe (Slightly, Barely) Easier

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 11:  J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks shoots against Ekpe Udoh #13 of the Milwaukee Bucks on April 11, 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 one disaster the Knicks had to avoid in this manic, frankly bonkers season, was missing the playoffs. Even with the truncated schedule and the massive adjustments constantly made on the fly, this season could not be a regression from last season. You couldn't add Tyson Chandler, a full season of Carmelo Anthony, and be blessed with the gift of Linsanity and somehow miss the tournament altogether. This is why last night's 111–108 road victory over the Bucks was so massively important. The playoffs were on the line, but so was the credibility of the franchise; we didn't come all this way to miss the playoffs. Now it's likely that the Knicks won't.

Well, it's not certain the Knicks are safe: They're now two games up on the Bucks with eight to go, and with all the talk about the Knicks not losing the tiebreaker with the Bucks now, they still might, were they to end up tied at the end. (The tiebreaker now is Eastern Conference record, and while the Knicks are two games up on the Bucks in that category now, with only one game left against the Western Conference, that would obviously be something that changed if the Knicks were to fall back in a tie.) But everything seems a lot less scary now. Had the Knicks lost last night, they'd be tied with the Bucks and facing some truly harrowing games coming up. Now they have a slim two-game breather. Pull off an upset or two, and this thing could be wrapped up by mid-week. Suffice it to say: Bucks fans are pretty depressed this morning.

The key remained Carmelo Anthony, who scored 32 points and continues to step up in exactly the way you want him to, but he at last had plenty of help on the offensive end, from Tyson Chandler (a very handy 6-of-6 from the field and 7-of-7 from the free throw line), Landry Fields, and J.R. Smith, who put up another dreadful shooting first half but hit big shots at the end. The defense looked as bad as it has in the Woodson era, but the Bucks have, improbably, one of the top scoring teams in the league since trading for Monta Ellis, so that'll happen. It was tight and scary and uh-oh-uh-oh-uh-oh all night. As Seth put it on Posting and Toasting this morning, it was one of those games you were sure the Knicks were going to lose, if just to up the drama; this season seems to insist on that.

But then the Knicks won. (If you want some drama, fine: Anthony seems to have tweaked his wrist again.) Now, if you have watched the Knicks this year, you know that their most likely course of action, at this point, will be to lose at home to Washington on Friday to freak everybody out again. That would be unwise, with games against Miami and Boston coming up. The Knicks aren't in the playoffs at this point. But they avoided the meteor that was hurtling directly toward them. The Knicks just have eight games left. Every win counts. But last night's win counted a little more than others. Whew.

Photo: Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images