There were plenty of times this season when it didn't look like there was a chance the Knicks could make the playoffs.
Long losing streaks, miserable performances and a general air of dysfunction had the team feeling like a failed experiment of epic proportions as recently as last month. A coaching change and Carmelo Anthony's well-timed turn into as dominant a player as there is in the league changed that and it paid off with a confirmed ticket to the postseason on Thursday night.
The Bucks went down fighting, but they lost to the Pacers and that means the Knicks will be able to continue their season a little bit longer. The question now becomes who they will play when the regular season comes to an end.
With a one-game lead, plus a tiebreaker, over the Sixers, the most likely outcome remains the seventh seed. The Bulls hold a one-and-a-half game lead on the Heat even after losing to Miami on Thursday night, so that means the Heat will probably be the team waiting when all is said and done.
There's a glimmer of hope that it won't turn out that way, though. The Magic have a three-game lead on the Knicks, but they won't have Dwight Howard for the rest of the season after he made the decision to have back surgery that's definitely related to a herniated disk and probably related to the fact that Stan Van Gundy is still coaching Orlando.
The Knicks have the tiebreaker over the Magic, which means they can finish tied with them and still move up to the sixth spot for a date with the Pacers. While that's not an easy task (the win over the Bucks makes seven in a row for Indy), it's definitely a better matchup than the Heat when you consider that the Knicks have actually been able to beat the Pacers a couple of times this season.
The Magic's remaining schedule isn't easy with three road games against Western Conference teams, but their fourth game is at home against the Bobcats. Assuming they win that one, the Knicks will have to win out to move up and they can't go less than 3-1 to have any chance at the sixth seed.
All of that mathematical housekeeping brings us to the other big development in Knicks land. Amar'e Stoudemire is going to play on Friday night against the Cavaliers, returning from a 13-game absence to a team that has only occasionally missed him thanks to Anthony's heroics.
His return brings us back to the eternal conundrum about how well Anthony and Stoudemire can co-exist, although the signs were fairly positive in the brief period they played together under Mike Woodson before Stoudemire's back troubles flared up. Another positive sign is that Anthony's scoring binge hasn't really come at the expense of his ability to set up his teammates.
He's shooting a lot, but he's also making passes when that's the right play and if others were able to shoot at a higher percentage he might have wound up with more than one triple-double over the last month. Since Stoudemire is a player who is most effective playing without the ball, there remains good reason to believe it can work out.
It will still take time, though, and the Knicks don't have enough of it to simultaneously work out the kinks while also winning all of their remaining regular season contests. It's not impossible, obviously, but it won't be easy.
Then again, nothing's been easy this season so maybe it's just enough to celebrate the playoff spot and let everything else play out from there.