Chris Copeland proves he can ball with the best (38694)

Who among you could have possibly fathomed that in late March, the Knicks would be relying on significant output from the oldest player in the league, a 29-year-old rookie and a 35-year-old veteran who remained unsigned until February? No one saw this coming when the Knicks were cruising along at 18-5 in December. Yet Kurt Thomas, Chris Copeland and Kenyon Martin all had to step in to help their team halt a four-game losing streak to begin the week with a 90-83 victory over the Utah Jazz.

The win concluded a five-game, eight-day West Coast road trip on which the Knicks were 1-4 and played the last three games of the stretch without All-Stars Carmelo Anthony (sore right knee) and Tyson Chandler (knee and neck). They returned to the Garden Wednesday night to host the Orlando Magic with a record of 39-26, one game ahead of the Brooklyn Nets in the Atlantic Division.

With the Nets in the jaws of an eight-game road swing that began on Monday, the Knicks seemingly have a favorable opportunity to increase their margin in the race for the division title with 16 games remaining.

“We’ve still got a lot of basketball left,” said Knicks head coach Mike Woodson following the streak-breaker.

But with the health status of his two best players tenuous as the season reaches a critical stage, the contributions of the Knicks’ role players or lack thereof will be glaring. The magnitude of the performances of Thomas (27 minutes, exceptional defense), Copeland (14 points, six rebounds in 31 minutes) and Martin (nine points, nine rebounds) versus the Jazz should not be understated.

They uplifted the battered Knicks’ psyche and were responsible for averting a symbolic and tangible dip into a tie with the Nets. While Thomas and Martin’s outings were somewhat surprising, Copeland simply did what he has always done when given the chance: effectively scored the basketball.

It has been at once confounding and frustrating for many Knicks supporters watching Copeland languish on the bench. Woodson has reasoned that Copeland’s limited minutes for the better part of the season is the consequence of him being a defensive liability. So is Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Novak, Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton. Perhaps Woodson has now seen the light and will continue to give Copeland his fair share of it.