By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks are just about in the best place they can be as they prepare to face the NBA’s best team on the road. The dismantling of the Hawks on Wednesday night showcased so many ways the Knicks have become a better team.

First, the chemistry is coming. The ball was spread around beautifully the entire night with no Knicks taking more than Carmelo Anthony’s 16 shots. Five players scored in double figures, with eight scoring seven or more. The team shot 48% from the field and had 23 assists on their 38 field goals, a good ratio. The offense flowed with very few isolations with shots coming off the movement from the high screen and roll with either Jeremy Lin or Carmelo Anthony.

Lin continued to play more efficiently, with just four turnovers to go along with nine assists. That’s better than a 2-1 ratio, a good continuation from his low turnover game against the Nets. He only took eleven shots in his 32 minutes, and was passer more times than he was a scorer. This is precisely the role he will have to take on if the Knicks are going to go a long way.

Landry Fields continued his strong play, with an efficient 16 points on just twelve shots, to go along with seven rebounds. Steve Novak is still shooting well, and getting good looks even after Carmelo Anthony’s return. JR Smith is looking more comfortable in the offense, getting shots by moving without the ball. Even Baron Davis had a chance to get into the flow of things with the Knicks up so big, tallying six assists, including two pretty alley-oops to JR Smith. Low and behold, the Knicks actually have a lot of depth.

They are also playing legitimately good defense. The Knicks rank 12th in the league in points allowed and 16th in field goal percentage. John Hollinger has the Knicks as the sixth best team in the league in terms of defensive efficiency, which takes pace into consideration when measuring points. The Knicks have gotten away from some of their clueless switching and are playing much better fundamental defense.

It isn’t all candy and roses for the Knicks, however, with both their stars still not looking right. Carmelo still appears to be a little rusty from his extended absence, and Amar’e Stoudemire is downright invisible sometimes. Anthony should be fine with time, but the possibility of a true Stoudemire decline is becoming more and more real. It’s a scary proposition. Even with all the good, if the Knicks want to be able to challenge the NBA best, like the Heat, they’ll have to play better. Stars still win in this league.

The Heat will provide a unique challenge to the Knicks with some of their matchups. Jeremy Lin will face his biggest challenge yet against one of the NBA’s best defensive teams and most athletic individual defenders in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. It will be interesting to see if he can be the same type of creator against the Heat.

Likewise, the Knicks defense will be tested against two of the best creators in the league, and a Heat offense that is much more fluid in the half court than it was a year ago. Can Amar’e Stoudemire slow down Chris Bosh, or will Tyson Chandler have to guard him? Can Tyson Chandler stay out of foul trouble but still help out on LeBron’s and Wade’s penetration? These are all things that will determine whether the Knicks can compete with the Heat not just tonight, but in the playoffs as well.

This is a true test of how far the Knicks have come, and whether or not Linsanity can carry the Knicks past the NBA’s best. I expect a record setting rating. All eyes across the country will be watching to see whether the Knicks are more hype or substance. After this game the Knicks will actually get in five practices over the next week or so of games. They can use this as a barometer of what they’ll have to work on during that time. This sets the stage for the rest of the season… enjoy it.

You can follow me on twitter for everything on the Knicks, Giants and New York sports at:!/Schmeelk.

Can the Knicks pull off the upset? Leave a comment below.

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