The Knicks take their winning streak and freshly minted Atlantic Division champion keychains to Chicago on Thursday for a date with a Bulls team that's caused them plenty of trouble this year.
Chicago has won all three of the previous matchups between the teams, bullying the Knicks in each game and causing outbreaks of their recently unseen propensity for letting officials turn them into children having temper tantrums. While it seems unlikely that the Knicks will meet the Bulls in the playoffs, it would still be nice to see them beat a team that plays the Bulls' style once before the year is out.
Alas, they'll be rolling into town without some pretty significant pieces. Tyson Chandler (neck, back) and Kenyon Martin (ankle) are both staying in New York to heal up, leaving the Knicks to start Chris Copeland at center against the Bulls.
The absence of the Knicks' interior presence (along with the similarly injured Amar'e Stoudemire and Rasheed Wallace) and the necessity of having the team healthy for the start of the playoffs raises the question of how hard to push for wins in the final five games of the regular season. With a 2.5-game edge on the Pacers, the Knicks are close to nailing down the second seed but the risk may not be worth the reward.
An opening round series against the Hawks isn't more difficult on paper than facing the Celtics and comes without the prospect of facing confirmed Knickslayer Paul Pierce. Starting at home and getting an extra home game in the second round is valuable, but meaningless without a healthy roster.
The flip side of going heavy on rest is that you might slow or stop some of the momentum that's been developed over the last 13 games. Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith have been so locked in that you wouldn't want to throw them off their rhythm by resting them more or otherwise taking them out of their comfort zone.
The Knicks seem to be leaning toward the middle ground at this point, finally deciding to bring in a healthy body to fill out a bench that's got a lot of guys in street clothes. James Singleton will join the team with Kurt Thomas heading out to have foot surgery and, perhaps, retire.
If Thomas does go, his last game will serve as a fitting coda to his career. In the victory over Utah that ended a disastrous road trip and touched off the current winning streak, Thomas was the engine for the entire team and helped will them out of their skid.
Adding Singleton is prudent and it also suggests that Mike Woodson has no plans to ride Anthony for 40 minutes to pick up wins that would, at best, incrementally increase the Knicks' chances of winning a title. It won't make for the best basketball over the next week, but we've all earned a little bit of rest so that we're operating at peak levels for the postseason.