GREENBURGH, N.Y. - With each tough loss, the crescendo to play the younger guys grows a little louder and that tightrope becomes a little trickier to navigate for Mike D'Antoni.
There are 20 games left in the regular season for the Knicks (25-37), and they would have to go 15-5 the rest of the way to make good on the coach's prediction that 40 wins would get them into the postseason. The Knicks haven't had a run like that in them all season, and it's a safe bet that pretty soon, the only number that will matter is the pingpong balls marked with the Knicks' logo come draft lottery time.
As time runs out for the 13th-place Knicks, who are three games behind the eighth-place Bulls for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, the fine line between winning now and preparing for the future should become a little less blurry.
In D'Antoni's eyes, that time hasn't come yet, and he isn't ready to shake things up and give those who have a serious future with the organization - in particular, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler - more court time.
"There's no other reason to have a rotation other than what we have in a sense that Gallo is a big part of it, Wil is a big part of it," D'Antoni said yesterday. "So that's not a problem. We don't have conflicting interest right now."
So that means keeping slumping Chris Duhon in the starting lineup instead of giving Nate Robinson a long look at the point. Robinson has flourished lately, averaging 26.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists and only 1.9 turnovers in the last 11 games.
Reluctant to do so earlier in the season, D'Antoni lately has used Robinson at the point, allowing him to back up Duhon as the starter's game has declined. But he's hesitant to sit Duhon at the outset and plug in Robinson, who showed off some of his freakish skills after practice yesterday, swishing four straight jump shots - from midcourt.
"I don't think we have enough resources that we can say, 'OK, look, that doesn't work. Let's go to something else,'" D'Antoni said. "I think ideally, we know how the team has to function and we have to get to that 100 percent for us to have a chance."
Duhon said he might be pressing and isn't playing within himself. He has 36 turnovers in his last eight games, and the Knicks need him to be right to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Said Duhon: "I've just got to settle myself down and play the game like I know how to play."
Notes & quotes: David Lee (sore knees) didn't practice fully but should be ready to go tonight ... Jared Jeffries (bruised left knee) returned to practice and expects to play after missing the last three games.