By John Schmeelk
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The Miami Heat are a championship caliber team. On February 23rd, the Knicks were not. The Heat are flat out better, and they showed it on Thursday night. This isn’t a reason for Knicks fans to panic, or some kind of gigantic red flag that means all playoff hopes for the Knicks have been extinguished. It also doesn’t mean that some tragic flaw in Jeremy Lin’s game has been exposed and he will no longer be effective the rest of the season.
Let’s start with Lin first. The Miami Heat didn’t unleash some magical blueprint that every other team can copy to shut down the Knicks new point guard. Every team has forced him to go left. The Mavericks, just like the Heat, hedged and trapped Jeremy Lin when he ran the pick and roll. The Heat have the NBA’s best pick and roll defense for a reason: they have a number of long and athletic guards and big men that can put unprecedented pressure on point guards after they come off the screen. They are damn good at it, and Jeremy Lin has never seen those types of athletes guarding him that way before. Other teams can’t copy what the Heat did because they don’t have the same personnel.
Lost in Linsanity, everyone has forgotten that he is still extremely inexperienced. He is going through things for the first time, and it’s amazing it took this long for him to have a setback. The Mavericks were a great defensive team too, but he managed to persevere. Lin played poorly Thursday night. A bad game was going to come. It was inevitable and it made sense for it to come against the Heat, who were clearly dead set on slowing Lin down. He was clearly affected by the pressure, picking up his dribble too often and missing open players. Mike D’Antoni could have helped too by pairing him with Amar’e Stoudemire on the pick and roll, rather than Tyson Chandler. Stoudemire could have given Lin a much easier pass with his midrange jumper. Lin will be fine.
The overreaction to losing to the best team in the NBA on their home court, who are also playing their best ball in two years, is mind boggling. And it wasn’t as if the Knicks were completely outclassed and embarrassed. Despite the fact they turned it over 19 times, and Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin all played poorly. The fact they were down twenty by halftime was a minor miracle. They were still in position to make a run in the 4th quarter.
Carmelo Anthony also showed more willingness to play within the flow of the offense. His series of one on one possessions in the second half were clearly a last resort taken only because the team couldn’t get points any other way. Knicks fans need to remember that Carmelo Anthony is still the team’s best player, and he should be taking a lot of shots. He needs to get his shooting percentage up, and I think he will as he gets healthier. He still needs to be a scoring machine if the Knicks want to compete with teams like the Heat. I would like Mike D’Antoni to get him some more touches in the post.
Amar’e Stoudemire continues to be a worry. In a game where his young point guard was clearly playing poorly, he did not step up to take some of the load off of him. Carmelo Anthony tried late in the game (perhaps too late), but Stoudemire was downright invisible after the 1st quarter. He took only seven shots, grabbed only five rebounds, and had six turnovers. He lacks any explosion and I find it hard to believe he is right physically. He hasn’t looked the same all year, even before his brother tragically passed away in a car accident. If the Knicks wants to compete with the Heat, he needs to look like the player he was last year. Of all the things going on with the Knicks right now, this should be the biggest worry.
So Knicks fans can get off the ledge. Losing to the Heat in Miami is no crime. They are 15-2 at home for a reason. With All-Star Weekend here, and then only on game before next Sunday, the Knicks will have ample amount of practice time to figure things out between Jeremy Lin and Carmelo Anthony. It will set the stage nicely in the second half of the season. Need I remind Knicks fans that the team that went to the finals in 1999 was 18-17. Right now, they are 17-18. The 1999 team needed time to gel. So does this group. Patience isn’t popular, but it is required. A great season could still be in the making.
Over the break I’ll go through the major questions I listed before the season and see how the Knicks are doing answering those questions. I’ll also make a new list detailing what needs to happen in the second half if they want to make a serious playoff run.
Enjoy the All-Star break.
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