There was a loose vibe in the Knicks' locker room late Wednesday night.
Veterans and younger players were joking around, laughing; everyone seemed ready to relax in the aftermath of a big win.
Rookie Iman Shumpert said the atmosphere felt like "fresh air."
And why wouldn't it?
The Knicks had just beaten the Bucks on the road to open up a much-needed two-game cushion over Milwaukee in the race for the eighth seed in the east.
Carmelo Anthony was all smiles after the win, having fun with Baron Davis, Shumpert and others.
But when someone suggested that the Knicks took a big step toward locking up a playoff berth, Anthony's tone changed.
"We feel good about ourselves ... but it's not over yet," he said.
It certainly isn't.
With eight games to go, the Knicks seem to be in good position to make the playoffs but two of their next three games are tough.
After Friday's home game against the Wizards, New York (30-28) hosts the Heat on Sunday and the Celtics on Tuesday. The Wizards have won two straight, though at 14-44, they've become a league-wide joke. Boston and Miami, though, should have plenty to play for.
The Heat remain mathematically in the hunt for the top seed in the East (they trail first-place Chicago by four games). Boston is one of the hottest teams in the league right now, having won eight of its last 10.
So the short-term won't be easy on New York, which has won 12 of 16 under Mike Woodson.
But, if you look at the rest of the remaining schedule, New York seems to have it fairly easy. So do the Bucks and Sixers. But New York's schedule seems especially soft.
Here's a breakdown, based on opponents' winning percentage entering play Thursday:
NEW YORK: The Knicks' remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .444. Four of their final eight opponents are over .500. Four of those eight games are at home and four are against teams in the top four in their conference. They have three against teams ranked in the bottom four in their conference.
PHILADELPHIA: The Sixers' remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .488. Three of their final eight games are against teams with records above .500. Only two of the eight games are at home. Of the five games left against teams below .500, four are on the road. They face two teams ranked in the top four in their conference and one in the bottom four.
MILWAUKEE: The Bucks' remaining opponents have a winning percentage of .458. Four of their final eight games are against teams over .500. Four of their last eight are at home. They play three games against teams ranked in the top four in their conference and two against teams ranked in the bottom four.
So, based on strength of schedule, as long as the Knicks beat who they're supposed to beat, they should make the postseason.
If they do, it will be the team's second playoff berth in the last eight years. And If Woodson's Knicks win a playoff game, it will be the organization's first since 2001. (And that would go a long way toward getting Woodson a contract for next season.)
But that's a conversation for another day. First, the Knicks have to finish in the top eight to get in the tournament.
"Ain't no telling what can happen," Anthony said. "We just have to take it one game at a time."
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