Donnie Walsh during a press conference to announce he was...

Donnie Walsh during a press conference to announce he was hired as president of the New York Knicks. (Apr. 3, 2008) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

With back-to-back wins (only the third time in the 2010 calendar year) against the Clippers and Celtics, the Knicks are holding off that 50th loss of the season.

They haven't had three straight 50-loss seasons since 1984-85 to 1986-87. But the trend does bode well for the future. After that third 50-loss season (24-58), the Knicks went on to make the playoffs for the next 14 seasons and had a winning record in 13 of them.

The 28 wins the Knicks have right now, with five games to go matches the worst total Walsh has ever had in 24 seasons as an NBA executive. In 1987-88, Walsh's Indiana Pacers went 28-54.

"Hey, I don't like losing the way we're losing, so it's been very difficult to go through that," Walsh said. "But I think this is the best way to go about it for the New York Knicks . . . But it's not a fun thing to go through."

This should be it, however. With $30 million in salary cap space to spend to improve the roster, be it through free agency or trades, Walsh has to hope this team will be good enough to shoot for 50 wins, rather than avoiding 50 losses.

"Do I know it? There is no "know" in this business," Walsh said. "But, yeah, I've got to believe that the New York Knicks now are in a better position than they were for some time."

As for those who remain skeptical that the Knicks will be able to attract any players of significance -- at the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade/Joe Johnson level -- in free agency this summer, Walsh shrugs.

"My feeling is nobody knows until you talk to the guy himself," he said. "And then you'll find out. Like I've told you before, I can't imagine why free agents wouldn't look at this place and come here. I mean, this is the most incredible basketball atmosphere I've ever been in. And I've been in North Carolina and Indiana."

But Walsh knows the Garden and New York City won't be enough, nor are the young, promising talents of Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas. Clearly one player isn't going to get it done, at least not to the level Walsh wants to see the team get to with this rebuild.

"Your going to have to go out and do more in order to make this a team that's an elite team," he said. "But you'd get a hell of a start if you get a great player."

* * *

Earl Barron had to admit he didn't even know the Knicks would be playing the Celtics on this night. When he first arrived Friday in San Francisco as a D-League call-up on a 10-day, Barron thought the Knicks were going from Los Angeles on Sunday to play Indiana on Wednesday.

Sunday is when he found out about the home game in between. Tuesday, less than an hour before gametime, he found out he would be starting. Al Harrington's left ankle was too sore to play.

"I was a little shocked at first," Barron said. "But I had to amp myself up, prepare myself a little more . . . I got off to a good start, then it hit me a little bit."

Barron, a 7-footer whose NBA career mostly consists of holding pine with the Miami Heat, had one of those nights a player like him (even with a ring from 2006) won't soon forget. He scored 17 points and grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds in 43 minutes against Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Co. and led a 44-34 rebounding edge against the Celtics.

Barron's stats may lead some to point to David Lee's season and suggest that the system can make anyone put up big numbers. Don't fool yourselves.

Lee's line (13 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists) may have been overshadowed, but his below-average scoring night was the result of a 6-for-16 shooting performance, as the mid-range shot just wasn't falling.

Credit Barron with hustle on the boards and to loose balls and for draining several open mid-range shots early in the game. He also looked very comfortable in the pick-and-roll, which not all big men pick up so easily. Barron seems to understand the move-the-ball concept, as well, as he made quick decisions, which allowed the Knick offense to flow.

The only weird thing was the Barron was wearing a No. 30 Knicks jersey at the Garden, with Bernard King sitting courtside along the baseline. Barron is the first Knick to wear No. 30 since Frank Williams had it from 2002-04.

* * *

* - What was interesting was to see how Lee, who has played center all season at 6-9, looked next to a 7-footer at the power forward spot. Lee still got his shots and still got to the boards. It helped that Boston plays traditional bigs at the four (Kevin Garnett, Glenn Davis). The question that faces Lee as he moves back to the four spot next season will be if he can defend some of the league's quicker, more athletic fours.

* - Danilo Gallinari had yet another third quarter outburst at the Garden. In the previous home game -- before the five-game road trip -- Gallo had 17 points as he locked in an entertaining head-to-head battle with a trash-talking Carmelo Anthony. This time it was an elbow by Kevin Garnett that got Gallinari fired up and he poured in 19 points in the quarter and 24 of his career-high 31 points in the second half. What was more notable is that he didn't do it with three-point bombs (he made just 1 of 4 from downtown), but by driving strong and drawing fouls (10-for-11 from the line).

* - The Knicks are the only Atlantic Division team to beat the Celtics at home in the last two seasons. Boston is 21-2 in road games against division opponents, with Tuesday's loss and a Jan. 4, 2009 defeat at MSG as their only defeats.

* - Toney Douglas came off the bench for a second straight game, with Chris Duhon back in the starting PG role. Douglas played 29:19 and a lot of the time -- with Tracy McGrady out -- was off the ball in a two-guard spot next to either Duhon or Sergio Rodriguez. Douglas struggled with his shooting (4-for-14, 1-for-5).

* - Nate Robinson's Garden return wasn't nearly as emotional as some might have expected. The sellout crowd gave him what could be best described as polite applause, but hardly a rousing ovation. He played 14 minutes and had 5 points and 5 assists.

* - Home for barely two days, we hit the road again Wednesday for two more games, starting with the Indiana Pacers before Friday's game in Orlando against the Magic. Tracy McGrady missed Tuesday's game against the Celtics -- his second straight -- with soreness in his surgically repaired knee. He's even questionable for Indiana. But I have a feeling he'll be ready to go in Orlando, his hometown and a team he'd love to play for again.


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