Knicks' Gallinari close to playing again

Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce, right, drives past New

Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce, right, drives past New York Knicks' Danilo Gallinari, of Italy, during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game. (Oct. 3, 2010) (Credit: AP )

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Knicks don't have Carmelo Anthony and they are experiencing life without a key player they probably would have to give up to get the three-time All-Star. Danilo Gallinari sat out his fourth straight game with a left knee sprain as the Knicks took on the Trail Blazers Tuesday night at the Rose Garden.

The 22-year-old forward could be back as early as Friday's game against the Kings at the Garden, though Monday's Martin Luther King matinee against the Suns is the more likely target date. Gallinari, who suffered the injury late in the win over the Pacers on Jan. 2, said he is feeling less pain in the knee as each day goes by. During this road trip, he has been involved in light running and shooting drills with a thick brace on the knee.

"I feel better without it," Gallinari said of the DonJoy brace. "But in order to protect my knee, I have to."

He is fortunate that the brace is the only issue he'll have to deal with and the Knicks are fortunate that the injury wasn't more severe. A worse injury would have caused the Knicks to miss his 15.3 points per game for more than just two weeks. And it could have shelved one of the team's important assets in potentially acquiring Anthony. The team's depth at forward, with Shawne Williams emerging as a reliable perimeter shooter, has certainly helped.

The Nets remain the front-runners to land Anthony at this point - though there was a report by Yahoo! Sports that said the Nuggets have threatened to trade Carmelo to the Knicks if the Nets continue to leak information about trade talks - while the Knicks remain very interested bystanders.

In fact, a person with knowledge of the situation said the Knicks quietly are trying to put pieces in place to be ready to start meaningful negotiations for Anthony. That almost certainly means bringing in a third team to produce at least one, if not more, first-round pick.

The Knicks have had preliminary conversations with the Nuggets, mainly with general manager Masai Ujiri, but talks never have progressed into discussing specific players. It has long been assumed that Gallinari would be part of any package the Knicks would offer to Denver. It is possible, however, that Gallinari could be excluded from a blockbuster trade. Although the Nuggets have little interest in the Knicks' roster, an NBA source said they would target Wilson Chandler.

In that scenario, Anthony would take Gallinari's starting spot at small forward. Gallinari could move to power forward, but he might be better served coming off the bench. As it stands now, with Chandler playing so well and the need to add some size to the lineup, Gallinari could come off the bench when he returns from this injury.

"I'm fine with everything," Gallinari said of a possible reserve role. "As long as we win and it's good for the team, I'll do anything."

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.

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