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D'Antoni sets goal of 40 wins for playoffs

GREENBURGH N.Y. - You can call it Knicks Formula 40. It's not so much a magic elixir as it is a heady goal, one that coach Mike D'Antoni revealed yesterday that he has set for his team.

During the All-Star break, D'Antoni sat down and decided that 40 wins -- what it would take to earn a trip to the playoffs -- should be a realistic goal. So he started preaching about the power of 40.

"I just thought that 40 is pretty good," D'Antoni said yesterday. "There's no reason why we can't win close to 40.

"It's tough. We got some hard teams, but we just have to try to play better and win some when we can."

When D'Antoni unveiled his Formula 40, the Knicks were 21-31, which meant they'd have to go 19-11. Now they are 24-33, so they'll have to go 16-9.

D'Antoni said trades for Larry Hughes and Chris Wilcox, who both need to get into game shape, haven't helped the team in reaching that goal. He knows, however, that the moves were important for the long-term good of the team.

"I really didn't envision the two trades," he said. "I think it set us back a little, but we're getting better. We should have won a couple games that we blew, but we still have a good chance."

Of the Knicks' 25 remaining games, 14 are against opponents whose records today put them in the top eight in their conference, meaning they would make the playoffs. What's more, they have to play Orlando (42-15) three more times. The Knicks -- who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday -- are 11th in the East, 21/2 games behind No. 8 seed Milwaukee.

Still, the players seem to be buying into the plan.

"I think it's a legitimate goal for us," David Lee said. "We've been 3-2 since the break. More than anything, it will keep us concentrated as we move forward. The biggest thing is that we're getting better and have already won more games than we did last year ."

Chris Duhon believes the Knicks can win 16 of their remaining games, and that's because he was on a team in 2004-05 that dug itself out of a big hole.

"I was on the Chicago team that lost its first nine games and finished ," Duhon said. "It's realistic to think that it's possible. We have the chemistry here that will be able to do that."

In truth, D'Antoni said there really isn't anything magical or mathematical about his goal of 40; he just wanted to set the bar high. Said D'Antoni: "If we win 36 and make the playoffs, I'll be happy."

Notes"es: Danilo Gallinari could be in line for more minutes after the game he had against the Magic Wednesday. Gallinari (eight points and five rebounds in 13:12) was 3-for-3 from the field, including two three-pointers, all in the final 1:45. The biggest was a three with 24.2 seconds left that cut the Knicks' deficit to two. "It's a little bit of a juggling act," D'Antoni said, "but obviously with performances like that, he's going to earn more minutes."

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