IF YOU heard coach Mike Woodson talk before last night's game against the Magic at the Garden, you would think the Knicks were a team filled with young legs, and young energy.

"The foundation of our team is the younger players," Woodson said. "The older guys have just got to fill in and do their part and help us continue to win."

The younger players Woodson was referring to include Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, Amar'e Stoudemire and Steve Novak. All are 30 or younger. Everyone else, according to Woodson, is filler, which is why he's not overly concerned about the status of any of his older players other than 39-year-old Jason Kidd.

"The veteran guys were just a piece to a puzzle that weren't going to play a lot of minutes," Woodson said.

He was talking about Kidd, Marcus Camby (38), Rasheed Wallace (38), Kurt Thomas (40) and Pablo Prigioni (35). Woodson's thinking seemed valid last night after the Knicks overcame a poor start defensively to handle the Magic 113-97. With Kidd unavailable due to a sore back, Chandler led six Knicks in double-figures with 21 points.

The old guard wasn't needed on this night. But Woodson is fooling himself if he believes injuries to his older players can't sabotage their chance of winning an NBA Championship.

Camby and Wallace have been out for most of the year with foot injuries. And though they weren't supposed to log big minutes, it's clear the Knicks are a better team when they're in uniform.

Wallace's post defense and 3-point shooting have been missed, especially during a stretch where the offense has become too dependent on Anthony (20 points) for scoring. When he plays, Camby still has the ability to grab rebounds and convert an occasional jumper. All those are skills that will be needed down the stretch of the season and in the playoffs.

Kidd is the most pressing concern. After averaging nearly 30 minutes of playing time per game, his back is now a troublesome issue.

Woodson admitted that though minutes for Kidd, Wallace and Camby always figured to be limited, not having them in the lineup isn't good because "you have to groom them and play them to keep their skills sharp."