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Winning record would truly mean franchise's rebirth

  So much for the euphoria. As the final minute was ticking down on the Knicks' win over the Cavaliers, the final seconds of the Wizards' win over the Bobcats, which is what helped clinch the first Knicks playoff berth in seven years, was shown on GardenVision. But the crowd didn't seem to catch on.

I remember when I covered the Islanders in 2002 and in the game they clinched their first playoff berth since 1994, there was bedlam at Nassau Coliseum. The exhale was so apparent, some of the old banners billowed high above the ice.

But perhaps it's a good thing that tonight's result didn't turn into a party celebrating any kind of real mission accomplished. That shouldn't be the attitude for a team -- and a franchise -- that, even with that recent six-game losing streak, has to have higher standards.

"Every year," Carmelo Anthony said, "this is something that we should be looking forward to."

What these Knicks want to avoid are any more connections to the 2003-04 team, the last to make the playoffs. That group got in with a 39-43 record, which, let's be honest, is appalling. The ninth place team in the West, the Utah Jazz, went 42-40. The 10th place team was the Portland Trail Blazers, who finished .500 at 41-41.

The Knicks have six games left in the season and if you think there is nothing left to play for, think again. They need to win four to ensure a winning record (42-40), which would be the first for the franchise in a decade. You want to cite an accomplishment that truly emphasizes the return of a wayward franchise? That would be a good start.

It's also worth nothing that the sixth seed is still in reach. The 76ers are 1 1/2 games ahead and the Knicks have a game in hand.

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* - When he addressed the team in the locker room after the game, Mike D'Antoni made it a point to recognize the players who were there all season and contributed most to the effort to get this franchise back to the playoffs. It wasn't a knock on the New York Knuggets, but more a special thank you to Amar'e Stoudemire, Toney Douglas, Landry Fields, Shawne Williams, Bill Walker, Roger Mason Jr. and Ronny Turiaf, who each played a role from the beginning.

* - Now that the berth is secure and we're in the month of April, can the Garden go ahead and secure the future of Donnie Walsh as president of the franchise? Stability is just as valuable at this point as salary cap space.

* - The berth means the Knicks won't be in the draft lottery, which means the Houston Rockets (41-36) won't have reason to swap picks in this year's first round, unless they somehow overcome a three-game deficit to steal the eighth spot in the West from the Memphis Grizzlies (44-33) or New Orleans Hornets (44-33) and leapfrog over the Knicks in the draft order.

If that happens, though we'd be talking about one or two spots, at best, in the mid-teens, it could be enough to move the Knicks further away from a targeted player in what will be a critical draft for them, especially without a pick in 2012.

But if the Rockets fail to make the playoffs, it would make that cap-inspired Tracy McGrady trade from Feb. 2010 a little less daunting. The Knicks traded the right for Houston to swap picks in 2011, along with trading their 2012 first round pick.

* - Landry Fields was able to laugh at himself after his embarrassing "gumby" -- that's how Hot Rod Boone described it -- on a fast break dunk attempt in the second quarter. "Bright note of the day, Knicks are in the playoffs," Fields wrote on Twitter after the game. "On an even brighter note, I'll be making a cameo on 'Not Top Plays of the Week'. Hahaha!"

Fields, whose legs, like Amar'e Stoudemire's, definitely look like they've lost the spring they had earlier in the season, went down hard. Quite frankly, I know that feeling all too well. Happened to me once in eighth grade. And maybe 10 more times over the next six years. Bright note for me? None of them were ever on television or in front of a large crowd. Winning!

* - Speaking of dunks, Bill Walker had a nasty one that he yanked over Samardo Samuels in that fourth quarter blitz that put the game away. Billy caught it on a cut, rose up over Samuels for the powerful finish and then glared at the former Louisville big man. Walker said before the game, Samuels was asking Walker why he mainly shoots three-pointers now and doesn't dunk anymore. So Walker made it a point to prove he can still elevate.

Of course Billy still got up a few from downtown, including one in the second quarter that was from 33rd Street. When Walker plays with the kind of confidence, energy and determination he showed tonight, he can be an extremely effective reserve. The issue has always been consistency.

* - The Knicks' Big 2.5 of Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups entered the game as the second-highest scoring trio in the NBA (68.7 points per game) since the All-Star Break. The top trio is none other than Miami Thrice, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who are averaging 74.3 points per game.

And, yes, ESPN/ABC and TNT would love to see this as a first-round matchup for an easy ratings bonanza. But would this really be the best scenario for the Knicks?

* - The Rangers are still in a battle to clinch a playoff berth for the Stanley Cup playoffs with a week left in the NHL season. If they succeed, it would be the first time since 1997 that both Garden teams were in the playoffs in the same season, which is just an astonishing statistic. 

 

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