The Thin Knicks Line Comes Into Focus

Loss to Toronto and injuries against Detroit underline difficult situation

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    AP
    Smiles can turn to frowns very quickly in Knicksland.

    Saturday night should have been a night for relieved sighs at Madison Square Garden.

    The Knicks were routing the Pistons, quelling any concerns that Friday night's listless loss in Toronto was a sign that the team had taken one of their customary turns on a dime from winners to losers.

    The Pistons are a bad team, obviously, but the Knicks haven't done particularly good work against bad teams this season and it's always nice to have a laugher with two games on deck this week.

    Alas, all was not well in the middle of Manhattan. It wasn't just the fact that the Knicks had the same kind of offensive stagnation, turnover fetish and poor free-throw shooting as the night before in Toronto, either.

    Amar'e Stoudemire left the game early with a back injury and Jeremy Lin sat out the final quarter-plus with a knee issue, adding layers of worry to a win that couldn't overshadow just how big a task the Knicks have ahead of them the rest of the season.

    With just 17 games left in the season and a wide gap separating the Knicks from a first round date with anyone but the Heat or Bulls, there simply isn't any room to swallow even the temporary absence of key players.

    The loss of Jared Jeffries for two weeks hurts enough and the fact that Jeffries' absence represents a dreadful problem should let you know just how thin the line is for the team.

    Stoudemire's resurgence under Mike Woodson has been a big reason why the team has been able to win games and the thought of missing him or dealing with the diminished version of earlier this season is a fairly chilling one. Anyone who has ever experienced back problems knows that they don't just magically disappear, so while we're hopeful that Stoudemire was speaking the truth when he said the injury is no big deal we aren't tattooing his words onto anyone's forehead.

    Lin's issue doesn't hold the same kind of concern moving forward, but the fact that he winds up bloodied by one of the three killer shots he takes each game does give some pause. Baron Davis is entertaining to watch and all, but the goofiness of his game has a shelf life far below that needed for a starting point guard of a team fighting for its life.

    That's just what the Knicks are doing, starting with Monday night against the Bucks. While there's a big gap between them and first-round favorite status, there's a very small gap between them and missing the playoffs entirely.

    Milwaukee's just a game-and-a-half back of the Knicks, making a win more essential tonight than at any other point in this strange season. From there, nothing much changes as the team will have to win a lot more often than they lose or wind up on the wrong side of the fine line that separates a chance at success from complete failure this season.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.