This isn't just Game 82. For Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni, it's Game 164. They have endured the two seasons Walsh's plan would require to clear salary cap space and put the franchise in place to target a star free agent (or two) this summer.

This is supposed to be the last game the Knicks experience as a losing franchise. If this were baseball, the Knicks would get anyone they wanted by throwing all the money they had at LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and, what the heck, maybe also Amar'e Stoudemire. They'd keep David Lee and trade all of their young players for Chris Paul and cash. And then D'Antoni could guarantee next season things will be different around here.

But working with much different rules in the NBA -- ones that give teams like the Cavaliers, Heat and Suns the ability to pay more to keep their players -- D'Antoni couldn't committ to the idea that this is, indeed, the end of one of the most dreariest eras in franchise history.

Asked if he felt he had to win next season, D'Antoni replied, "I don't know."

"I'd love to win," he said. "But got-to, don't got-to? I don't know."

Let's say here that "got-to" is the correct answer. For two seasons D'Antoni has had a built-in excuse for the losses. The priority was on clearing cap space and additions to the team were made with the condition that any incoming players do not impact that plan. D'Antoni has still taken criticism, mostly this season, but come October, the honeymoon is officially over.

"This is the honeymoon?" he said when I mentioned that point. "Then I shouldn't have got married."

Though it sounded like D'Antoni was suggesting he shouldn't have taken the Knicks job, I doubt that's what he really meant. I found it to be typical D'Antoni humor in the face of criticsm.

And after a laugh, D'Antoni added, "Because y'all been real light. Thanks, I appreciate it. I mean, getting blistered every day and, guess what? - next year it's every day. Well, OK. It's going to be the same.

"And I don't mind it in the sense of, I put enough pressure on myself. I'm not happy that we're losing and I know next year we need to win . . . I fret over doing a good job and I think I put enough pressure on myself. Whatever y'all want to pile on, that's fine, too. That's your job and you should, but that doesn't effect what I do or what I think or if I'm happy. We could be losing, you guys could be nice to me and I'm sure I'd be miserable. So it doesn't really change."

Well, it would change as long as the team does.

* * *

* - The Knicks announced today that Wilson Chandler will have surgery on his left ankle for the second straight offseason. This procedure is to clean out scar tissue in the area where he had bone spurs removed last June. The recovery time is 6-to-8 weeks so it isn't expected to have too much of an impact on Chandler's offseason workout schedule. He is still recovering from his groin strain, so Chandler was already on the shelf until May as it is.

* - Tracy McGrady won't play tonight against the Raptors and spoke about his future in the game. He's quite aware that what he does this summer -- and how his knee responds -- will decide whether or not his career will continue. But it' seems quite certain he's played his last game as a Knick. In 24 games with the Knicks, McGrady averaged 9.4 points, 3.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds in 26.1 minutes per game.

And if you're a Chicago Bulls fan with a lot riding on tonight's outcome, you might like to know that since the Feb. 18 trade deadline, the Knicks are 4-0 when McGrady doesn't play.

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