The world's a different place since LeBron James made his vaunted first trip to the Garden as a member of the Heat. That night, he was booed with lustful abandon ... for the first half. At the beginning of the third quarter, the Heat took over the game, and the crowd was pretty quiet from then on. Since then, the Heat are 12–5, with four of those losses coming in the last week, when much of their big three has been hurt. (Chris Bosh will be out tonight.) The Knicks? 7–11. The Garden fans might not be much quieter tonight, but they'll certainly be less confident.
Looking at the Knicks' upcoming schedule, the best they can probably hope for is to be two or three games over .500 – where they are now – by the end of February. That will leave them with the sixth seed, just where they sit today, and that will be fine. The Knicks are essentially locked into that sixth seed now, barring collapse. Even a Carmelo Anthony deal wouldn't change that.
So that makes games like tonight more entertaining than vital. Maybe the Knicks can sneak out a win – with Bosh out, the Heat are basically LeBron, Wade, and ten below-average NBA players – to tick the win total up a notch or so, but on the whole, this thing is mostly settled. When the Knicks played the Heat last month, they were spreading their wings on a national stage, ecstatic to have the NBA world caring again. Now? They're just trying to keep their head above water and nail down what holes need to be fixed over the next month, if any. And, of course, Carmelo. Everything right now is far more about Carmelo than LeBron.
Which is why everyone should take a nice moment tonight and awe at Amar'e Stoudemire, who is going to be announced as a starter for the Eastern Conference All-Star team tonight. The Knicks have had one All-Star in the last decade, David Lee, who played twelve minutes and scored four points in last year's game. It'll be Amar'e's sixth All-Star game, and obviously his first as a Knick. He'll be the first Knick to start an All-Star game since Patrick Ewing in 1992. We can get caught up in everything else going on with the Knicks, but let's remember: Considering the pain of the last decade of basketball at MSG, the Knicks have an All-Star starter, a winning record, and a playoff spot all but secured. It makes one want to be a lot less angry when they go to the Garden. At least when LeBron isn't there.