In a lockout shortened season that began two months late and afforded NBA teams just two weeks of training camp to get ready for the start of the season the New York Knicks entered the campaign with lofty expectations after finishing with their first winning record in nine years a season ago in a year that saw them acquire perennial all-stars Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudamire. With the addition of 7’1 center Tyson Chandler, coming into this season, who anchored the back of the Dallas Mavericks defense during their championship run last season the Knicks were attractive to many like a top contestant in a beauty contest.
But just as fast as looks can attract in the NBA they can disappear equally as fast and then come right back again even faster and look as enticing as ever. That is the story thus far of the 2012 New York Knicks as they are just a couple of games past the midway point of their season and close in on the all-star break. An all-star break that will give the team rest where they will only play one game over a nine day stretch once the all-star break begins on Friday. But before all the fun begins in Orlando, Florida this weekend during the all-star festivities that will see Knicks stars featured prominently throughout the weekend’s events the Knickerbockers have a primetime showdown further south of Orlando in the Sunshine state against the team whom they will have to get past someday if they ever want to win an NBA championship which is what this current Knicks ensemble have all been brought here to do.
After beginning the season with a record of 8-15 and looking like one of the biggest disappointments in recent New York sports history the Knicks got a stroke of Linsanity and ran off seven consecutive wins to even their record at .500 before going 2-2 over their next four games headed into Thursday night including a win over the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks. The recent surge under the direction of phenom point guard Jeremy Lin accounts for the Knicks winning 9 of their last 11 games which is a far cry from losing 11 of 13 games which is where the Knicks were the night Jeremy Lin saw his first extended minutes and scored 25 points to go along with 7 assists and five rebounds against the New Jersey Nets the night before the New York Giants won Super Bowl XLVI. Two nights later when Lin got his first start of the season against the Jazz he dazzled so much in a 28 point 8 assists performance that he had members of the Giants off their feet giving him a standing ovation and Linsanity was born.
This now sets up a matchup with the Miami Heat at 7:00 Thursday night in a nationally televised broadcast. “It’s going to be fun,” said Carmelo Anthony following the Knicks’ 99-82 blowout win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden “I’ve been in a lot of these games before. It’s going to be a lot of fun, a lot of anticipation about this game, we are going down there to win. Miami is playing great basketball right now, one of the hottest teams if not the hottest team in the NBA right now so it will be a great game, fun game down there a great experience especially for Jeremy, his first one, so we are excited about that.”’
When Carmelo says this will be Jeremy’s first one he is referring to the fact that Thursday night’s matchup will be the first time Jeremy Lin has played against the Heat in a Knick uniform. The matchup between the two teams will always have a special feel as long as Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony are on the respective teams because these two have been linked together since they were regarded as the two best players leading into the 2003 draft where they were selected first and third overall. It has always been a marquee matchup anytime Lebron and Carmelo go head to head and Carmelo always seems to bring his A game against Lebron and has won 9 of their 13 meetings. “They are a great team, they are playing great team basketball,” Anthony says of Miami Heat as he is in the process of trying to prove to folks that he can be a positive and not a hindrance to this Knicks team with the way things have suddenly changed now that Jeremy Lin is the starting point guard and for all intensive purposes the most valuable player on the team.
In the only matchup between the Knicks and Heat so far this season on January 27th Lin sat at the end of the Knicks bench and saw the same amount of minutes as Carmelo Anthony, zero. Anthony chose that game and the following night against Houston to sit out to rest some nagging injuries. The shorthanded Knicks shot 43 three pointers against Miami that night in an attempt to stay in the game against Miami’s behemoth of a team led by Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. “They have some great guys on that team and they are playing great team basketball right now but it’s a fun game, it’s going to be a fun atmosphere down there, it’s going to be one of them games that Jeremy hasn’t been a part of yet.” Anthony says about his point guard and the team’s Thursday night matchup.
In the first matchup almost four weeks ago the Knicks made 18 3 pointers including 7 by Bill Walker but were eventually outclassed by Miami. This time around the Knicks will enter Miami with a much more talented squad with a legit chance to knock off the Heat. Bill Walker who was lights out in the last game will be lucky to see any floor time at all this Thursday night with the emergence of a bench that appears to have a shot at being the best in the league. Since the insertion of Jeremy Lin into the starting lineup every player has raised their game and that cannot be any more accurate than for the performance of forward Steve Novak who has come alive as a lethal three point threat off the bench for New York. “We knew tonight was important we had to handle our business at home,” Steve Novak said following his 17 point performance including five three point makes against Atlanta. “I think tonight was a big step towards getting ready for them.” Steve Novak played his college ball at Marquette university where he played on the same team as Dwayne Wade “Dwayne I mean he’s Dwayne Wade. He’s just had an incredible career, already has a championship and obviously has a good thing going on in Miami right now so it’s always fun when we get to see each other. I always ask him to be nice but the way his career has taken off since he has gotten in the league is unbelievable.” Novak said.
Along with Novak players like Iman Shumpert and Jared Jefferies have come off the New York bench and given the Knicks major contributions during their turnaround over the last three weeks but what has really taken this team to another level has been the additions of veteran guards Baron Davis and J.R. Smith to the team which has provided the Knicks with almost as much fire power off the bench as they have in the starting unit. J.R. Smith made his Knicks debut against the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks last Sunday and immediately came off the bench to hit three consecutive three point shots to make him an instant favorite among Knick fans. Baron Davis has had an all-star career at the point guard position and was signed by the Knicks before the season began to give them a playmaker at the point guard position. But Davis who had been dealing with a back issue since last April was unable to play in an NBA game until this past Monday when he finally made his long awaited Knicks debut against the Nets “I’m excited about every game, especially for me because I didn’t really think that I would be here. If you would have had asked me in August I was really thinking about retiring and not sure if I could come back from such an injury like this.” Said Baron Davis who went on to say he was overjoyed and praised the Knicks training staff following a 14 minute six assists effort in Wednesday night’s win.
The other part of that Knicks dynamic backcourt off the bench J.R. Smith showed his defensive prowess swiping five steals in Wednesday night’s game and Smith was also on the receiving end of two beautiful alley oop passes from Davis “Baron was there in my rookie year in New Orleans so we kind of know how to play with each other already. When he gets the ball I put my trust in to him. We just have to make eye contact and play.” As Smith is looking forward to the Showdown in South beach like everyone else. “The atmosphere is going to be great. We have great players just like they do. It’s going to be interesting, I think it’s really going to come down to our bench and our bench has to step up tomorrow and if we do that I think we’ll come out. There are going to be a lot of people watching and it’s going to be a playoff atmosphere game so we’ve just got to be confident.”
There was no Knick who looked and sounded more disappointed earlier in the season when the Knicks were in the midst of losing 11 of 13 games before Lin than Amar’e Stoudamire. Right now however Amar’e is in much better spirits headed into this Thursday matchup versus Miami. “This game will be a great indication of how good we can be. We know how talented we are from our lineup, we know how deep we are as far as our depth so we have a great challenge ahead of us in Miami.” Stoudamire said. The game will be another test for Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin who will find himself in another primetime matchup against the NBA elite. Thus far Lin has passed those tests with flying colors but the Heat will present the biggest challenge yet to Lin on the defensive end. Already teams have begun to try and double team Lin at times and trap him to either force him to turn the ball over or to get the ball out of his hands. If there has been one issue of concern with Lin amongst the brilliance he has displayed thus far it is his number of turnovers so this will be an interesting matchup to see how both teams will deal with that.
Last year in the eastern conference Finals basketball fans remember how Lebron James guarded last season’s MVP Derrick Rose at the end of those games and shut him down which was a big factor in Miami closing that series out in five games. If James can do that to Rose than needless to say Jeremy Linn will be up for one heck of a challenge. “We have played some tough games so far this year with Jeremy in the lineup,” says Amar’e “Miami is a team that does a great job on the pick and roll and they do a great job with trapping so we will have to have a talk in shootaround before the game to figure out the best ways to exploit their defense. “ Stoudamire believes these two teams will see each other again come late spring “This is one of those fun games, it’s a competitive game, two of the top teams high in the championship pursuit so it’s going to be a very exciting game from start to finish.” Amare concluded before he and the team left the Knicks locker room inside Madison Square Garden to board a Jet down to Miami. With 31 games left on the schedule after Thursday night there still remains a lot of time for the Knicks to get the chemistry straight with this talented roster but a competitive game would be a great show for the NBA and a win by the Knicks would put the Bokers’ on cloud nine going into the break when just three weeks ago none of this seemed possible.