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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Knicks keep winning despite injuries

Jeremy Lin talks with teammate Amar'e Stoudemire during

Jeremy Lin talks with teammate Amar'e Stoudemire during a timeout against the Sacramento Kings. (Feb. 15, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Knicks have gone from a team that was waiting for players to get healthy to one that can win with key guys out. They had better hope they can keep doing that, and with guys who are playing banged-up themselves.

Amar'e Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin and Jared Jeffries remain out, and the first two could be out for the season. Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Baron Davis are limited with nagging injuries. But the Knicks have 13 games left and are in a tight playoff race, so there is no time for excuses. There never is.

Earlier this season, the Knicks, especially ex-coach Mike D'Antoni, were building up Davis as their savior. When he was better after rehabbing a herniated disc in his back, things were supposed to turn around.

It was unfair to Davis, who repeatedly said he didn't know if he would ever play basketball again, and it wound up being too convenient an excuse for the Knicks' troubles.

They should have found ways to win more with what they had. D'Antoni should have held the players more accountable. That's the buzzword since Mike Woodson has taken over, that he's holding players accountable.

The Knicks are deeper and just better than earlier in the season. But D'Antoni should have asked for and expected more from the players instead of giving them the out that they didn't have an important piece.

If the Bulls can go 14-5 without reigning MVP Derrick Rose, the Knicks could have stayed afloat without an injured point guard who hadn't played a single game for them. They still had Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler.

If the Knicks had won more, they wouldn't be facing must-wins every night now and they could rest some of their beat-up players.

D'Antoni ultimately turned to Lin, and he helped rescue the Knicks' season and give them the confidence and belief that they're carrying with them now.

Lin led the Knicks to three wins when both Anthony and Stoudemire were out. Overall, they're 5-5 without Anthony. Heading into last night's action, they were 7-2 without Stoudemire this season and 2-1 since Lin sat down with a left knee injury.

"I just think it's a testament to the character that we have on this team and also the talent and guys being willing to step up and provide leadership at different times in the season," Davis said. "When our backs are against the wall, we come together and we play hard and we play for each other."

Davis has given the Knicks a boost now in their time of need. He's hobbled and doing everything he can to fight through it, just like Anthony and Chandler, with a postseason berth in the balance.

Even though they're not at full strength, the Knicks believe they have enough to win. They do.

They did in January and February, too.

Ewing could be an option

If the Knicks finish strong and have a deep playoff run, Woodson could return as their coach. Some influential Knicks, namely Anthony and Chandler, probably would go to bat for Woodson.

But if there is an interview process, Patrick Ewing should get a call.

The Knicks legend and current Magic assistant reiterated his desire to be a head coach this past week. At the very least, the Knicks should consider bringing back Ewing as an assistant coach.

Although Ewing said he's "trying to move up," he wants to come home and might be looking for work this offseason anyway. He said he doesn't know what will happen with the coaching staff in Orlando.

It's the same for the Knicks. Phil Jackson, John Calipari and Jeff Van Gundy are considered leading candidates if Woodson doesn't return.

If the Knicks win a playoff series or two, it's possible the interim tags will be removed from general manager Glen Grunwald and Woodson. Then Woodson could opt to make changes on his bench.

But if there's a new general manager, there probably will be a new coach, and he would pick his assistants. Regardless, the Knicks should give Ewing a call.

Nash could leave Phoenix

Steve Nash finally said this past week what everyone was thinking: If Phoenix doesn't make improvements, he will leave as a free agent this summer.

Teams, including the Knicks, will line up for Nash's services.

The Heat and Mavericks -- if they don't sign Deron Williams -- could be frontrunners, but don't dismiss the Knicks just because D'Antoni left or Lin is here.

Nash loves New York. He has a place in the city. And if you can get Nash, you get him and make Lin your backup. It's about winning games and championships, and Nash still is an elite point guard.

Knicks must hope for the best with Amar'e

Stoudemire may always have back issues, and the Knicks probably will never be able to get out of his contract.

Past knee surgeries made Stoudemire's five-year, $100- million deal uninsurable. With three years and about $65 million left on it, what team will want it?

The Knicks can't amnesty him in a couple of years because they used the provision on Chauncey Billups to clear salary for Chandler, the team's MVP this season.

Stoudemire, whose signing made the Knicks relevant again, did all he could last offseason to strengthen his back. Now his regular season might be over. This is a guy who keeps himself in great physical condition, too.

The Knicks will have to live with Stoudemire's contract and hope for the best with his back (and knees).

NBA in New Jersey

The Nets have seven games left in Newark, but the NBA isn't saying goodbye to New Jersey altogether.

The Prudential Center will hold the NBA draft for the second straight year. The people who run The Rock had expected to host the event for two to three years as the Garden undergoes its renovations.

"The world is recognizing that 'Newark's got game!' " Mayor A. Cory Booker said.

Newark doesn't want the NBA games to end, either.

City and state politicians and the Prudential Center owners, with help from Newark native Shaquille O'Neal, hope their relationship with the NBA continues. They have been trying to bring another team to New Jersey when the Nets leave for Brooklyn.

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