Though the Knicks basically handed away a sure win -- what would have been their fifth straight -- to the Bobcats tonight here in Charlotte, you might later discover that this game may wind up one of the most successful nights of the season.

As we said in our game story, the performance put forth by Jared Jeffries and the obvious impact his departure made after his sixth foul with 2:23 left in the game were notably positive exhibits of the effectiveness Jeffries can have on a game. And as he dominated the third quarter in the intangible statistic columns -- four steals, two blocks, two charges and countless deflections and hustle -- I imagined Donnie Walsh, watching from home, giddy at the prospect of suitors calling with interest in acquiring Jeffries before the Feb. 18 trade deadline and clearing another $6.8M off the 2010 cap.

While moving that money would be a critical move toward effectively rebuilding this team through free agency and trades this summer, it turns out it could be a costly departure if the Knicks are going to be playoff contenders this season. You saw how the Knicks collapsed defensively in the final two minutes, especially against those two drives by Raymond Felton (whom Jared had been checking for most of the game).

Certainly, the offense managing just two points in the final four minutes played a huge role in the loss, but getting stops on those two Felton drives would have helped the Knicks escape.

I recall the words Isiah Thomas used to describe Jeffries when he was signed to this contract back in Aug. 2006. Thomas couldn't offer a singular quality of Jeffries' game, but instead said, "He balances the plane ride."

It looked more like the Wright Brothers first few experimental flights over the last few seasons, but credit Mike D'Antoni for putting Jeffries into a role where his skill set is utilized the most. Jeffries has developed into an excellent point guard defender and his role as quarterback in the Knicks zone is invaluable.

What we wait for now is to see what contending teams are looking to shore up their bench and defense for the postseason and may be interested in adding Jeffries, knowing he is an expiring contract next season. All they would have to give up is an expiring contract from this season.

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Meanwhile, the team's other 2010 contract player, Eddy Curry, also had some measure of progress in the game in the mere fact that he played almost 6 minutes and remained healthy.

In fact, I didn't see as many issues with Curry's play as I did with his teammates failing to get him the ball properly. Curry made a few quick spins off the pick-and-roll and wound up open, but the ball-handler never saw him. Then there were some awful pass attempts into the post that were either stolen or went out of bounds.

Oh, and by the way: Tracy McGrady made a cameo tonight for the Houston Rockets.

A few other notes:

* - Stephen Jackson after the game said "We feel like we're better than them" and added that the Bobcats believe they are a playoff team that will make the playoffs, as if to suggest the Knicks aren't in that category. The teams meet Sunday at the Garden. I'd say that was a bulletin board quote, but I don't know if the Knicks have that type of personality.

* - Darko Milicic was put on the inactive list for the first time this season. Darko has recorded 15 DNP-CDs and played in only eight games so far this season. He remained in the locker room area for the entire game.