CHICAGO -- The Knicks' game in Milwaukee Wednesday night already was gigantic, but its magnitude increased after what happened here Tuesday night.
They couldn't capitalize against the Bulls without Derrick Rose and suffered what could prove to be a costly 98-86 loss at the United Center.
The Knicks began Tuesday in seventh place in the East, dropped to eighth after falling to Chicago. If they lose to the Bucks, the Knicks will fall into ninth place. The top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs.
"It's a must-win game for us," Tyson Chandler said. "We've got to approach it like it's a Game 7 playoff game."
The Knicks got what seemed to be a break about an hour before tip-off when the Bulls de-activated Rose because of a right ankle injury he sustained in Sunday's game at the Garden. The Knicks won that game in overtime, but couldn't make it two in a row against Chicago, which improved to 16-7 without Rose.
By the time the game started, the 76ers already had won. So the Knicks needed to beat the Bulls to stay in seventh. Their loss trimmed the Knicks' lead over the Bucks to one game with nine games left.
If the Bucks win Wednesay night, they would take the season series 3-1 and thus the tiebreaker. If they wind up 2-2, the next tiebreaker is conference record. The Knicks are 22-18 and the Bucks are 21-18.
"I feel like at this point we have to understand what's at stake," Chandler said. "We hold our own future in our hands. We have to show big character."
The Knicks (29-28) didn't against Chicago. They were manhandled inside and had a poor defensive second half, giving up 51 points. Chicago won the boards battle, 51-33, including 18-5 on the offensive end. The Bulls outscored the Knicks 25-5 in second-chance points.
"It was just one of them nights where they outworked us," Carmelo Anthony said. "They won the hustle game. That's one of the keys to their success -- they hustle."
Anthony, who had a season-high 43 points and buried the game-winning three against Chicago Sunday, finished with 29, shooting 11-for-19. J.R. Smith scored 14 off the bench. Iman Shumpert had 12 and Chandler 10 and 15 rebounds.
The Knicks had a terrible second quarter. They shot 4-for-21, scored 10 points and were down 47-35 at halftime. They drew within 53-50 with 8:25 left in the third before Hamilton got hot.
Hamilton scored 14 of Chicago's last 19 points and helped them take a 72-62 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Bulls went ahead 81-69 after a Taj Gibson dunk with 6:35 remaining. After a stop, Luol Deng buried a wide-open 18-foot jumper to give the Bulls a 14-point cushion.
The Knicks were down 86-75 after a Shumpert three and had two chances to draw closer, but Landry Fields missed a short jumper and Anthony a three. The Bulls opened a 92-77 lead after Kyle Korver's three with 3:25 to go.
An Anthony jumper with 2:14 left got the Knicks within 94-84, but they drew no closer.
"It was just one of those games," interim coach Mike Woodson said. "Offensively we didn't have it.
"We didn't get ball movement. We didn't flow into things like we've been. It was like everybody was trying to beat the Bulls by themselves and you can't do that against a good team."
The Knicks can't afford a repeat performance Wednesday night.
"[It's] a huge game," Woodson said. "Milwaukee is right there fighting for the last spot as well as Philly. [It's] not going to be an easy task. We have to go in there mentally and physically ready to play because they'll be ready."