After playing five minutes in Sunday's game against the Atlanta Hawks, Jason Kidd headed to the bench, put on a white Knicks T-shirt and began talking with his teammates. He never made it back on the court. Instead, he went in the opposite direction, to the team's locker room, where he spent the second half as his teammates battled to a 106-104 victory. Now the question is what direction Kidd's health is going with half of the regular season remaining.

In the five minutes he played Sunday, Kidd had two assists and helped create two Atlanta turnovers. That was it. At the start of the second half, the Knicks announced Kidd would not return to the game because of soreness in his lower back, an echo of the back spasms that forced him to miss four games in November and December.

Kidd's abrupt departure Sunday underlined the tightrope the Knicks are walking this season. They have one of the best records in the league, but they also have a sizable, fate-tempting group of older players. Two members of that group, Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby, both 38, already have missed large chunks of the season because of foot and leg injuries. Both remain sidelined.