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OAKLAND — The Warriors play down to their opposition. If they were playing the earthworm, they'd be playing underground.

Sunday night, the Warriors sure played down to the New York Knicks, losing 89-84. How low can you go? They scored, oh gosh, 84 points in their own building. The result? They are currently two games from not making the playoffs with nine games left.

Bad night for the local guys.

You may think the Warriors have an excuse. David Lee and Andrew Bogut didn't play. Well, first off, the Warriors are a no-excuse team. Coach Mark Jackson says that about a thousand times a day. No excuse.

You are officially not allowed to use that excuse. And there's something else. It's not like the Warriors were playing a good team. They were playing the Knicks who came into the game 13 games under .500. That's a lot of games under .500. The Knicks currently don't qualify for the playoffs, but they are on the cusp of qualifying which tells you something about the Eastern Conference of the NBA — call it the Wretched of the Earth.

The Knicks prepped for the Warriors by losing last week by 31 to the Lakers and 24 to the Suns. Some observers thought the Knicks had cried uncle on the season. Their coach, Mike Woodson, is in hot water now that the Knicks brought in Phil Jackson as president and overall emperor to restore sanity to the basketball operation. It seems certain Jackson will dump Woodson after the season. So, the Knicks leave something to be desired in their chosen profession.

The Warriors needed to beat them no matter what, need to win every game. Five teams in the West are congregating around the final four playoff spots. One team won't make it. The Warriors don't want to be that team.

They had control of the game early but scored 12 points — 12 points? — in the second quarter and never quite found their mojo after that. You always expect them to win at the end, to make the heroic comeback. This time, Stephen Curry threw away the ball at the crucial moment and the air fizzed out of the arena.

Before the game, I asked Warriors coach Mark Jackson if it would be an advantage to move up one spot and finish fifth. He gave the diplomatic answer. Call it politically correct.

"It's an advantage for us to be playing the best basketball we possibly can to close out the season," he almost recited. "We want to win every game and wherever the chips fall, that's what it's going to be. But our mindset is not a number. Most important, it's us playing the best basketball we can play and we believe whoever is sitting there is going to be a good team and certainly is going to present some challenges."

Sure, we've got that, not that the Warriors played good basketball Sunday. With all due respect, the Warriors want to finish fifth. Let's approach this systematically. They don't want to finish eighth because that means facing the Spurs in Round 1. Bad idea. They don't want to finish seventh because that means facing Oklahoma City in Round 1. Bad idea.

If the Warriors finish sixth, they probably get the Clippers. Tough but do-able. The best scenario, though, is to come in fifth and face Houston in the first round. This won't be easy because the Trail Blazers are holding onto fifth place — barely — and have won three in a row. Portland had gone into the tank, but the Blazers climbed out of the tank, whatever the tank is, and now lead the Warriors by two games. Not a good place for the Warriors.

Why do the Warriors want to play the Rockets?

Because they can beat the Rockets. Houston recently lost its point guard, Patrick Beverley to a torn meniscus in his right knee and is out indefinitely. Bad for Houston. Beverley is a defensive whiz and a real pest on defense. It's good to be a pest on defense. He is tough on Curry and runs the Houston offense just fine. Now, it's back to Jeremy Lin, who isn't quite as fine.

Also, and this is important, Andrew Bogut pushes around Rockets' center Dwight Howard, just beats him up. The Warriors need to make a surge to come in fifth. The Rockets are an up-and-down team, but so are the Warriors. And so far, they aren't exactly surging.

After the game, I asked Jackson why his team, which usually comes back at the end, didn't.

"We missed shots," he said. "We missed some free throws. We missed some wide-open looks. That's what happens when you put yourself in that position. You have to make plays down the stretch. This game should have been won early by the way we started and set the tone. We gave them life."

I said the Warriors have a reputation for playing down to their opposition.

"We've lost some games to teams that we're better than," Jackson said. "Look around this league. I think the only team that has handled its business consistently is the Spurs. They've separated themselves and that's why they're the best team in the business. We certainly own the fact that we've lost some games that we should have won. That's a more-than-capable New York Knicks team that has underachieved this year. But they have talent. Carmelo Anthony can make it interesting against anybody."

The Warriors' locker room was quiet afterward, players dressing in a silent movie. Jermaine O'Neal sat at his locker with ice bags on his knees. "We've got to do a better job taking the pressure off Steph," he said. "New York played a little bit more with a sense of urgency. They are fighting for their playoff life. We are, too. They just made plays toward the end."

Do the Warriors play down to bad teams?

"We were fortunate tonight a couple of teams lost that are behind us (Phoenix, Memphis). These are games we should win no matter who we play. We don't care if it's bottom-of-the-barrel teams or the best teams. We should win in our building."

But the Warriors didn't win in their building. They're still trying to find their place in the barrel.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.