It would be a stretch of epic proportions to say that all is well with the Knicks right now, but their condition has been upgraded from critical to serious after a pair of wins this week.
Beating the Jazz and Magic while getting Carmelo Anthony back for the second of those games has made it possible to look at the four lopsided road losses as more of a sign that it's hard to win basketball games with injuries ravaging your roster than one of total collapse. Or at least you can believe that without feeling like you're lying to yourself.
Moving Pablo Prigioni into the starting lineup has helped the team avoid the slow starts that bedeviled them even before that killer losing streak and Kenyon Martin's given the team just enough interior presence to survive while they have three other big men on the shelf with injuries. It's certainly not the Knicks lineup you imagined seeing, but it's working better than what they were trying before.
That's a small compliment, but not an insignificant one given the point in the season that we're at. The Knicks don't have much choice other than trying anything and everything to hold onto their division lead and then get some bodies back to make a run of it in the playoffs.
This weekend is essential to those efforts. The Knicks will be in Toronto on Friday night and then return home to face the Raptors again on Saturday, a pair of games that offer them a golden chance to extend their lead over a Nets team that has a date with the Clippers in L.A. on Saturday night.
The Raptors aren't making the playoffs and they don't have much to play for outside of developing young players for future seasons, something that the Knicks need to exploit to their advantage over the next two nights. The dogged effort of the last two games must remain in effect because, if you'll excuse the cliche-speak, the Knicks want it more than the other guys.
Reasonable people know that the Knicks aren't suddenly going to get better at defending point guards and that J.R. Smith is going to take a handful of hideous shots each and every night, so it's not about perfection. It's about executing as well as possible without slipping into the unfocused state that has caused them so many problems in the last couple of months.
There are no more two-game stretches like this over the rest of the season, but there are names like Heat, Thunder and Bulls on the slate. Blowing this opportunity to create a little more breathing room would be awfully close to handing the division title away, in other words, and that makes this a must win weekend for the Knicks.