Before the Knicks close out their home schedule tonight at the Garden, I'd like to tell you about a young woman named Melissa Ann Roland. She was here at the Garden a year ago, at the last game of the regular season. It was one of those so-called meaningless games, won by the Knicks over the Nets, 102-73, between two teams headed for the NBA lottery.

But for Melissa, and her close friend, Michael McCarron, there was nothing meaningless about it.

It was Melissa's first time at the Garden. Michael, a die hard Knicks fan, wanted her to experience it in person. They settled into affordable seats in the 400s, but eventually -- thanks to some friendly consideration of a few ushers, found their way to the 100s.

"We had a lot of fun," Michael said in an email, "and I knew I gave her a great experience she would never forget."

Michael and Melissa, both in their mid-20s, had been friends for eight years. They dated a little bit, but eventually decided friendship was their strongest connection.

Michael wanted to take her to another game, perhaps this game, but he couldn't. Melissa Ann died on Jan. 7 at the age of 25.

She was born with Cystic Fibrosis. In 2008 she needed a double lung transplant. In fact, over a three-year period, she had two. Her health continued to deteriorate, however, and, despite exhaustive efforts from her family to find her the best medical care possible -- and raise as much money as possible to fight Cystic Fibrosis -- Melissa was gone.

While mourning his painful loss, Michael thought about that game he took her to at the end of last season. And he wrote to me. I promised him I would tell her story at the appropriate time.

Tonight is it.

"The game may have been meaningless to the team, but it meant a lot to me," he said. "I was able to show her the Garden and one of my biggest passions, the Knicks."

This is why every game counts. It counts because it is the game that a mother found the money to purchase tickets to take her son for his birthday. It is the game someone who has never seen a pro game live suddenly got hooked. It is the game a man took his friend to show her just why he talks so ebulliently about this team and this building.

It could be the first -- and last -- game ever seen by a young woman who had so much else going on in her life, but got to spend two hours focusing only on how happy it made her friend.

Rest in Peace, Melissa Ann.

* * * 

* - Earl Barron, whose 10-day contract expired on Sunday, signed Monday with the Knicks for the remaninder of the season. What's interesting is that Barron could have signed with any team, including a playoff contender (and, according to a source, he had an opportunity to do exactly that), but he chose to finish out the season with the Knicks.

Barron is almost certain to get at least an invite to training camp next fall, but may do better than that as the Knicks rebuild the team this summer. The 7-footer has shown he is very comfortable in the pick-and-roll offense, has a terrific mid-range game and understands defensive rotations and positioning like the 28-year-old seasoned veteran that he is. He's not starting center material however (the hands are a serious issue), but he could be a very capable backup center and rotation player.

* - David Lee (26 points and 8 rebounds) needs to score just five points in Wednesday's season finale in Toronto to clinch a 20-10 average for the season. He'd be the first Knick since Patrick Ewing in 1996-97 to post a 20-10 average in a season. As for being left on the bench in the fourth quarter of what could have been his last Garden game as a Knick, Lee said he was more interested in getting the win. But he did hear those fans behind the Knick bench chanting "Come Back Da-vid!"

Newsday LogoYour Island. Your Community. Your News.Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months