The Knicks really had two preferred outcomes from this weekend's games against the Cavaliers and Hawks.
The first was to win both and lift themselves into a real shot at passing the Magic for the sixth seed in the playoffs. That would mean a date with the Pacers in the playoffs, a fate far better than facing off with the Heat in a best-of-seven series.
Choice number two was loosening up on the reins and accepting some losses that resulted in a trip back to the eighth seed where the Bulls present a better matchup than the Heat. Resting players while Amar'e Stoudemire finds his legs after a long absence would give the team a good shot of pulling off the big first round upset.
This being the Knicks of 2012, you could have probably figured out that the Knicks would wind up splitting the games in the most painful way possible. They failed to show up in Cleveland on Friday night, getting thoroughly outworked by a Cavaliers team playing out the string and losing 98-90 in a game that was as hideous as anything that happened with Mike D'Antoni at the helm.
The worst part was that Amar'e Stoudemire's return wasn't just about his own rustiness. The offense looked hapless, raising all the old concerns about his ability to mesh with Carmelo Anthony, and his defense was predicated on the belief that lazily waving your arms in the general direction of someone with the ball was the same thing as actually trying to stop someone from scoring.
Dismal stuff, but at least it made it okay to throttle down and make sure the team was at 100 percent before trying to land the knockout blow of knockout blows against Miami. So Tyson Chandler sat out on Sunday in Atlanta, resting the various bumps and bruises that come with totally revolutionizing a team's defensive ability.
Naturally, the Knicks responded by playing hard, if sloppy, for 48 minutes and held on late for a 113-112 victory. It was a fabulously ugly game that makes an overwhelming argument for Chandler as Defensive Player of the Year thanks to the way the Knicks flailed around without their foundation in the middle.
That keeps their flickering hopes of moving up alive, although they'll die if the Bobcats can't snap their 20-game losing streak against Orlando on Wednesday, and makes it much more likely that they'll stay ahead of the Sixers in the seventh spot.
So it goes. You can only spend so much time worrying about playoff positioning when you're dealing with a team that would have run away with the division if they played to their capabilities a bit more often in the early months of the season.
At least the Atlanta game offered a positive coda in the form of Anthony and Stoudemire working together to score 61 points and grab 22 rebounds. After the awful showing in Cleveland, it was nice to see Anthony playing pretty much the same kind of dominant offensive performance he played with Amar'e out while Amar'e was getting his buckets where he could and actually giving something close to effort on the defensive end of the floor.
There are definitely ways to make it work when they are apart -- there's not much reason to have any moments in the playoffs without two of Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler on the floor -- but it is going to need to work when moments are tight down the stretch and the Knicks need baskets from their aces.
They got them on Sunday, making it a little easier to stomach the Knicks spending a weekend doing everything they could to stamp their ticket for Miami.