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Bad back forces Knicks to shut down Gallinari

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - As the Knicks continue their playoff push, they'll likely have to do it without their prized lottery pick.

The Knicks essentially are shutting down Danilo Gallinari for the rest of the season, giving him time to get treatment on his ailing back and make sure he's healthy for next season. Gallinari was expected to fly to Italy yesterday to seek opinions from two of the top back specialists in his native country. On Monday, he visited a specialist in New York - the fourth he's seen in the last four months.

The 6-10, 225-pound rookie was spotted on the sideline at practice yesterday before he left without speaking with reporters. He has categorized his health as 60 to 70 percent for most of the 28 games he's played, but he believes he has hit a plateau and isn't getting any better. It sometimes takes him five hours just to loosen up for a game, and he also has pain while he sleeps.

So Gallinari wants to explore all treatment options - with surgery a possibility - and get a second opinion in Italy.

"He's been unbelievable in his approach to try to get over the injury," coach Mike D'Antoni said, "putting in so many hours in the weight room and the therapy room, where mentally it was taking a toll. It was just hard for him to play a game because he's already spent five hours trying to get ready to play.

"He wasn't progressing, probably regressing a little bit, and we just wanted to make sure for his future, it wasn't fair to the team or him to put him on the floor at 50 or 60 percent and ask him to do certain things. He was getting a little frustrated."

Once Gallinari returns, he might see one more specialist before the Knicks determine their next move. If surgery isn't recommended, the Knicks would keep their leading three-point shooter (44.4 percent) on his strength and conditioning program.

Surgery would require a two- or three-month recovery period, which would leave Gallinari plenty of time to get ready for what should be a bigger role in 2009-10.

Team president Donnie Walsh didn't seem overly worried about the 20-year-old's lingering back trouble. Walsh said doctors haven't voiced real concern over Gallinari's lack of continued improvement with treatment.

"This is something that we've been dealt with," he said. "It's just a matter of how you deal with it, and I think that we are trying to do what's best for Gallo and what's best for us because we think he can be a terrific player ... If he's at 70 percent, 100 percent is what we want."

Notes & quotes: Al Harrington stepped on Eddy Curry's foot in a scrimmage yesterday and sprained his right ankle. He's questionable for tonight's game against the Nets at the Garden. Chris Duhon, who sat out the last two games of the five-game trip with nagging back and ankle injuries, returned to practice and should play ... Nets point guard Devin Harris is out indefinitely with a sprained left shoulder and a strained deltoid muscle ... Demetris Nichols signed his second 10-day contract with the Knicks.

Tonight

Nets at Knicks

7:30 p.m.

TV: MSG, YES

Radio: WEPN (1050), WFAN (660)

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