The ball's in Baron's hands

This was back in late January, when Jeremy Lin was still a seldom-used guard stuck on the end of the Knicks bench.

New York was mired in a six-game losing streak, an NBA team without an NBA-caliber point guard.

The entire organization was waiting for Baron Davis get healthy.

Because of the team's dearth of talent at point guard, Davis was viewed as a savior of sorts for the Knicks.

And it was a role he was ready to embrace.

“I’ve been playing basketball for a long time and I’m very confident in my skill set and what I bring to the table," Davis said on Jan 20. "And I accept any challenge.”

That challenge, of course, didn't immediately present itself. Instead, Linsanity did.

But Lin's out for at least six weeks due to a torn meniscus. So the challenge that Davis was so eager to accept earlier this season is now here.

The Knicks will turn to the 32-year-old veteran to run the team for the rest of the regular season and -- they hope -- the first round of the playoffs.

Davis has struggled to combat injuries and conditioning issues all year.

He missed the first two months of the season due to a herniated disk in his back. He sat out two games in mid-March with a strained right hamstring.

The hamstring injury is still giving him trouble.

The team's training staff considered removing him from the game in the first half of the Knicks' win over Orlando last Wednesday because his hamstring was barking. He was also slowed by the hamstring in the Knicks' loss to Atlanta on Friday.

Interim coach Mike Woodson said recently that he wanted to avoid playing Davis for extended minutes because of all of his ailments.

"That's something I've got to gauge," Woodson said when asked about Davis' workload. "... I can't play Baron 30-plus minutes. He's just not physically there yet to do that."

That's where Mike Bibby and Toney Douglas come in.

Woodson will rely on both backups to spell Davis, who has averaged 8.5 points, 5.5 assists and 4 turnovers per game as a starter. Rookie Iman Shumpert will also see time at the point.

The backups will likely play significant minutes down the stretch to help ease the strain on Davis's body.

Woodson said on Saturday that the Knicks are unlikely to look outside the organization for point guard help.

"I don't think there's a whole lot out there right now who will make a big difference for our ball club," the coach said.

So, as long as he remains healthy, the keys to the Knicks offense will belong to Davis.

And that means it will take on a decidedly different feel.

At 32, Davis a step slower than Lin, so the Knicks will likely play at a slower pace with the ball in his hands.

Davis also seems to be looking for Carmelo Anthony in the post more frequently than Lin did. Though that has more to do with a change of philosophy under Woodson than anything else.

Woodson has had to weather plenty of injuries in his brief tenure.

In addition to Lin, Amare Stoudemire is out for 2-4 weeks and Jared Jeffries is sidelined with a knee ailment. Despite their poor health, the Knicks are 9-2 since Woodson took over on March 14. They entered play Sunday 2 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

"We've just got to hang in there together and keep the bodies that we do have healthy playing when they step out on the floor," Woodson said. "The season is what it is. It's not going anywhere. We can still control our own destiny."

They certainly can. But with Lin out, it looks like a large part of it will be controlled by Baron Davis.

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