By Mike McGraw
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To the Bulls, Sunday's game in New York was the first chance for Derrick Rose to work off the rust after a 12-game absence.
From the New York perspective, it was a foreshadowing of future playoff glory. Carmelo Anthony caused Mid-Town to quake by hitting a 3-pointer with 8.2 seconds left in overtime to give the Knicks a 100-99 victory.
"That's how the Garden is supposed to be," Anthony said after the contest. "This was a playoff-type game. We might play these guys in the playoffs. So this was a big statement game for us -- a big win today."
Statements can be issued in many forms, but it's difficult to take anything about Sunday's skirmish too seriously. First of all, Rose was playing for the first time in a month because of a groin injury.
The Bulls fell behind 27-6 in the opening eight minutes, then outscored the Knicks by 31 points over the next three quarters.
Finally, the Bulls went 0-for-4 from the foul line in the final 34 seconds, blowing a chance to wrap up the victory. If just one of those goes in, it probably negates any chance of Anthony heroics.
While scoring 29 points in 39 minutes of court time, Rose hit 8 of 26 shots from the field and committed 8 turnovers. That either means Rose needs time to round into form or Knicks rookie Iman Shumpert is the league's greatest defender -- it all depends on where your newspaper was purchased.
New York has been in eighth place in the East for most of the last two months. But there's no guarantee Tuesday's late-night rematch at the United Center is a first-round playoff preview.
The Knicks actually are tied for the No. 7 spot with fading Philadelphia, while Milwaukee is closing fast. Orlando and Boston are lesser possibilities but still candidates to face the Bulls.
Would any of these matchups be more favorable? In the streaky environment of the lockout season, it's tough to say, but here's a closer look at potential playoff opponents:
New York: The Knicks have been through some wild mood swings this season and those have often been tied to personnel changes. When Jeremy Lin first stepped into the spotlight, New York won seven in a row, mostly without Anthony.
Then the Knicks lost six straight and fired coach Mike D'Antoni on March 14. Check that … D'Antoni officially left the team by mutual consent. Since Mike Woodson took over as head coach, New York has gone 11-3.
Lately, the Knicks have been playing without Lin (knee) and Amare Stoudemire (back). Lin is not expected back for the playoffs, while Stoudemire should return.
Will adding Stoudemire make the Knicks an even more dangerous playoff opponent or mess up the team's delicate chemistry?
That's a question that can't be answered. But New York is playing better defense under Woodson, and the presence of streaky shooters such as Anthony, J.R. Smith and Baron Davis can cause trouble in a close game like Sunday.
Milwaukee: Since losing to the Bulls at the buzzer March 7, the Bucks were 13-4 heading into Monday's home game against Oklahoma City.
On paper, Milwaukee doesn't seem to have much upset potential, but Bulls fans are well aware that few coaches can maximize performance like Scott Skiles.
The Bucks helped their cause by trading injured center Andrew Bogut and doghouse-dweller Stephen Jackson to Golden State for guard Monta Ellis, who averaged 16.6 points in his first 13 games with Milwaukee.
The Bucks don't field a lineup as impressive as the Knicks, but they could be like last year's Indiana Pacers, a team that battles for 48 minutes.
Philadelphia: This is the team most likely to finish out of the playoffs. Not only have the Sixers gone in the toilet -- with an 11-20 record since Feb. 8 -- they play nine of their last 11 on the road.
The strange thing is, Philadelphia still leads the NBA in points allowed, giving up just 88.5 per game. There are enough sub-.500 opponents on the schedule to give the coach Doug Collins and the Sixers a chance to turn things around, but it had better happen fast.
Orlando: Despite the drama in Disney World and Dwight Howard sitting out Monday with back spasms/hurt feelings, the Magic probably is good enough to avoid the No. 7 or 8 seed.
But nothing is certain with this team. Orlando finishes the season with road games at Boston, Utah, Denver and Memphis.
Boston: If the Celtics win the Atlantic Division, they're guaranteed a top-four seed. So they're a more likely second-round opponent for the Bulls.
But their advantage on Philadelphia and New York for the division lead was just 3 games on Monday morning.
With their aging lineup, Boston seems to be a good draw for the Bulls. Plus, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng seem to relish the individual matchups.