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2012 nba playoffs

Tonight, the Knicks Attempt to Justify Their Existence

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 30: The New York Knicks huddle against the Miami Heat in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs on April 30, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. 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 Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images) Knicks assemble!

What a disaster the Knicks are right now. It's pretty amazing how quickly this became the conventional wisdom, the giddiness of a batshit regular season erased by two ugly losses, a crushing season-ending injury to Iman Shumpert, and, mostly, a fire extinguisher brutally attacking Amar'e Stoudemire's left hand. Suddenly, the Knicks aren't just behind 2-0 in a playoff series — they're a disaster. There are calls to blow up the whole team, to trade Amar'e Stoudemire for magic beans and two cute kittens, to sign Jason Kidd/Steve Nash/Dwight Howard/Howard the Duck. We feel caution is in order. In our minds, the problem is not that the Knicks are falling apart; the problem is that they're playing the Miami Heat, who look like the best team in the NBA right now. (We are chastened.) If the Knicks win one more game or lose two more games in the regular season, we're not talking about the team falling apart. We're talking about how the Knicks, tied 1-1 (at least) with the Bulls or Pacers, have a clear path to face the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. The Knicks are facing the team most likely to win the NBA title in the first round; that's tough to deal with even when everyone's not busting their knees and hands.

So, the Knicks come to the Garden tonight in obvious, desperate need of a victory to make this a series, not to mention end a playoff losing streak that has lasted 4,029 days. (To make the point, the last time the Knicks won a playoff game, Iman Shumpert was 10.) It's a 7 p.m. start, and despite all the Knicks fans' frustration over the last four days, it's hard to imagine that the Garden won't be shaking from the opening tip. Of course, we thought that last year, too, but by the time Game 3 against the Celtics hit the second quarter, the building was mostly silent. The Knicks need a fast start just to have something positive to work with; they need to keep this thing close and let the crowd take over from there.

They may get some unexpected assistance from the maternity ward: Chris Bosh's wife gave birth this morning — she's already tweeted about it —  and he's back in Miami with her. This is the type of happy story that is nothing but wonderful and positive in every way but is ultimately sullied by jerks in sports who will start questioning Bosh's "commitment." (Marc Berman of the Post is already doing this.) Tom Ziller from SB Nation has the exact right take on this: "Sorry, but if you make this argument, you probably do not have a soul." It's still possible that Bosh makes it back to New York in time to play — although we'll say, having just gone through this five months ago, the last thing we wanted to do ten hours after our son was born was go write a blog post about Mark Sanchez. If Bosh isn't here for tip-off, the Knicks obviously have a better chance, particularly because they'll be going small anyway. (Not that Bosh is Shaq or anything, but still.) At this point, the Knicks need all the breaks they can get.

It'll end up coming down to how Carmelo Anthony plays, anyway — it always does. He played well in Game 2, but by the end, when he was the Knicks' only option, the Heat were focusing all their energy on him and shutting him down. This would be a great time for Steve Novak to bust loose and for J.R. Smith to get hot: The Knicks' defense, sans Amar'e, should be adequate, so these guys need to start scoring and giving Carmelo a little bit of a break. (It'll be a nice night for Landry Fields to take off too.)

For a shortened season, this sure has felt like a long road. It has been a thrilling, maddening, exhausting season, and with a loss tonight, the Knicks will fall behind 3-0, and it will all essentially be over. That would be a stupid, sad way for this all to end. The Knicks need a win tonight not just to have a chance in this series, but also to justify all the attention everyone has paid them this year. 'Cause we're all gonna feel pretty dumb if all this rigmarole existed just to watch the Knicks get swept again.

7 p.m. tip-off. Let's see how this works out.

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Photo: Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images