It’s still a little too early to determine if the Knicks’ recent struggles are a plausible indicator that they don’t have enough in their arsenal to overtake the teams they are challenging for the lower playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference.

There are several variables that could shift the balance, including injuries and trades as none of the Knicks’ primary competitors for the post-season are to a large extent better than they are. But after the worst statistical home defeat in franchise history on Sunday, a 50-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks (128-78) that should be viewed as an outlier, the Knicks were in a dangerous freefall. They had dropped six of their last eight games before besting the young and floundering Minnesota Timberwolves at the Garden on Tuesday night by 132-105.”I think that we just gotta figure out how hard we gotta play because teams are upping their effort level,” explained forward Jared Jeffries following the Mavericks debacle. “Especially right before the All-Star break teams are making a push to get in good (playoff) position…We gotta understand that guys are playing at a much higher level and we gotta match that.”The Knicks will enter their game against the Toronto Raptors tonight (Thursday) at MSG with a record of 18-26. They were tenth in the conference standings when the week began, four games behind the Charlotte Bobcats for the eighth and last playoff spot.”You make that push leading up to the All-Star break knowing that you get a few days rest,” illuminated veteran Larry Hughes in the Knicks’ locker room prior to posting another DNP (did not play) versus the Timberwolves.The Knicks’ All-Star hiatus will be from February 10through the 15th”Obviously time is ticking,” Hughes noted. “You can’t get games back. You don’t want to get too far behind, even though the East is set up the way it is with a (lot of teams) with losing records… At this point any three, or even two game winning streak helps you out a lot.” The Knicks have not won back-to-back games since taking three straight to begin this month. While team president Donnie Walsh insist that any trade he considers will only be to improve the Knicks’ playoff chances, the next two weeks will undoubtedly resolve whether he’ll be compelled to reassess his short term blueprint.