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Team Survives With Few Knicks

While a football practice may be harder hitting than the workouts that Jeff Van Gundy guides the Knicks through, his sessions on the hardwood do not bring with them the hands-off policy that football quarterbacks enjoy.

Witness Chris Childs’ return to the floor Tuesday. With a fractured orbit bone below his left eye, he practiced for the first time in a week, wearing a protective mask. In a game, Charles Oakley may protect Childs’ back, but put Oakley on the other side in a practice session and Childs was not going to be treated with kid gloves.

“Oak welcomed me back,” Childs said from behind sunglasses as the Knicks rushed out to catch a flight to Boston for Wednesday night’s exhibition game against the Celtics. “He dove on top of me.

“I wasn’t worried about the contact at all. That’s what the mask is for. It’s just like any other injury. If you break something or fracture something, if you get hit hard enough you can fracture anything. I can get hit in the other eye. As of now, the mask will be worn and I’ll be the local New York Knicks superhero.”

While Childs assured anyone who would listen that he would not, in fact, be a savior, the Knicks are hoping that the masked man will help them solve their preseason problems. With Childs, Charlie Ward, John Starks and Allan Houston all nursing injuries, the Knicks have been unable to correct their turnover problems.

Even with a healthy team last season, the Knicks were exceedingly careless with the ball, and that has not improved in the preseason. In stumbling to a 1-4 start, the Knicks have turned the ball over 18.4 times a game, worse than last season’s 17.8. In two games, Childs has 12 assists and six turnovers. His back-up, Charlie Ward, has 10 and 10.

But Childs’ return is still uncertain, as is that of Starks, who sat out Tuesday’s workout with a sprained left ankle. Starks iced and elevated his injured ankle and said that if it felt strong enough, he would try to play against the Celtics.

Childs lacked conditioning Tuesday after sitting out a week, and said a decision on his status Wednesday would probably not be made until game time.

“I’ll wear the mask for two weeks, and then switch to glasses, I hope,” Childs said. “It’s different. It takes time to get used to it. It’s uncomfortable right now, but it’s for my own good, for protection. I just haven’t been able to do anything for a week and you lose your conditioning. It felt good to be out there.

“The mask is not that bad. It’s clear and it’s cut enough out the eyes where it doesn’t bother me. My peripheral vision is good. I’ll talk to the trainers, talk to Jeff, and we’ll make the decision together.”

While the injury may have brought back memories of last year when, in his first season with the Knicks, he missed the entire preseason after suffering a broken leg on the second day of camp, Childs was not distraught over the time lost.

“When I initially did it and went to the doctors, I was like, ‘Oh, here we go again, another injury,”’ Childs said. “But it wasn’t one that was going to keep me out a long time. I missed a week, but I watched the games, I watched practice, so I’m still familiar with what we need to do as a team.

“I only missed a week. Last year, it was being in a new system. It was difficult for me to get back into my groove. I’m used to the system. I know what’s expected of this team and what’s expected of me. I’m just ready to go.”