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Final 11 games a challenge for Knicks

Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls drives against

Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls drives against Iman Shumpert of the Knicks. (Feb. 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Making the playoffs for the second straight season is not a given for the Knicks. They will have to earn a postseason berth.

They have 11 games left, and three are against teams that have won more than 72 percent of their games. Three more are against teams with winning percentages above 56 percent.

With their lead over ninth-place Milwaukee cut to a half-game after the Bucks' 116-94 win over Portland Saturday night, the Knicks will have to navigate through a rough late-season schedule in order to play May games at the Garden.

"This is kind of what you want down the stretch," Tyson Chandler said after practice Saturday. "You want to play against tough teams to prepare you for the playoffs. I feel like it's going to build character."

It starts Sunday in what should be a playoff-type atmosphere at the Garden against the Chicago Bulls, who will be getting 2010-11 MVP Derrick Rose back from a groin injury that kept him out of the previous 12 games.

The Easter treat begins a home-and-home between the Knicks and Bulls, a miniseries that could be a preview of the playoffs. If the season ended now, the Knicks would face the Bulls in the first round.

"[It's] definitely going to be approached like a playoff game," Carmelo Anthony said. "When we go out there and play them Tuesday, it's going to be a playoff-mentality game. Right now, if we started today, that's who we would be matched up with, so we've got to approach it like that. [It's] a big game for us. I'm pretty sure they're thinking the same thing."

The Knicks have to treat every one of their 11 remaining contests like a playoff game. After the two against the NBA-best Bulls (43-13), the Knicks are in Milwaukee on Wednesday. If the Bucks win, they take the tiebreaker. If the Knicks win, the season series will be 2-2; the next tiebreaker is conference record.

The Knicks still could climb to seventh place, which likely would mean a first-round clash with the Miami Heat, which visits the Garden next Sunday. The seventh-place 76ers are only one game ahead of the Knicks, who own the tiebreaker on Philadelphia.

"We've got to win," interim coach Mike Woodson said. "We've beaten some good teams this year. Beating Orlando the other night wasn't no easy task. It makes me think that our guys are committed to winning."

The Knicks have been committed under Woodson and at home since he replaced Mike D'Antoni, whose last game was a loss to Chicago on March 12. Woodson has guided the Knicks to a 10-3 mark, including 7-0 at the Garden.

"He's been great," Anthony said. "The way he's been able to get through to the guys on the team, his communication with the guys on the team, holding everybody accountable, responsible out there on the court, it's been great. For me and the other guys on the team, we've been responding well to what he's been doing."

It's shown against teams with winning records, which gives the Knicks confidence with their remaining schedule.

Of the 10 wins under Woodson, five have been against teams with better records than the Knicks. It nearly was six, but the Knicks blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead and lost to the Pacers on Tuesday. They responded two nights later by dismantling the Magic.

"We're going to have to beat a good Chicago team that's considered the best team in the East," Woodson said. "No, it's not going to be easy, but if we take it one game at a time and guys are committed, hopefully the results will be just like they were in Orlando."

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