Ever since LeBron James took his talents and his Gatorade and his adorable children audience to South Beach the night of “The Decision,” the Knicks have been trying to do exactly what he did: amass superstars, surround them with role players, and sell craploads of jerseys. There have been many bumps and detours in this process, and every once in a while, the Knicks face the Heat and can gauge how the mimicry is working, how close the Knicks are to where LeBron is, where they’re trying to get. Tonight, in the last game before the All-Star break, you could argue that the Knicks are finally there: Not so much in quality of team (the Heat are justifiably heavy favorites) as in building a triumvirate of stars as a foundation that you build around. Though we suspect no one thought that triumvirate would be Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak, and Tyson Chandler.
We’re kidding, of course. (Mostly.) But when you consider that LeBron’s decision essentially solidified what the Heat franchise and roster was going to look like for the next seven years, and the Knicks have essentially had nine dramatically different roster permutations this year, and both teams are sort of peaking right now, it speaks to the unpredictability and the fallacy of laid plans, so on. The Knicks and Heat playing is always a big deal, even if you never quite know specifically why until the last second.
The Knicks have had some luck with the Heat since LeBron came to town, actually: They’re 2-3 against them, including two stirring victories last year. But we all know how different these Knicks are from any of the other Knicks teams to play the heat. Linsanity shook everything up.
As Adam Zagoria pointed out last night, the last time the Knicks played the Heat — January 27, a loss that dropped the Knicks to 7-12 — Jeremy Lin didn’t even play: He was a DNP-Coach’s Decision. (We might start calling this “being Mike Bibby-ed.”) He wouldn’t make his debut in the rotation for another eight days, when he saved Mike D’Antoni’s job, turned the franchise around, and, oh yeah, became the most popular athlete on the planet. When all that happens in less than a month, you go from “DNP” to “Being Guarded By LeBron.” Which LeBron confirmed is going to happen. So that’ll be fun.
Of course, the key to the Knicks’ success against the Hawks last night — and going forward — is ball movement, and considering the Heat play some of the best defense in the NBA, they’ll need to keep that going tonight. The Knicks are always gonna have a puncher’s chance against teams like the Heat and Bulls because they have so much offensive talent that if they just happen to get everybody hot at the right time, they can overwhelm teams. The nice touch is that now the defense is backing that up as well. Suffice it to say, the Knicks haven’t, in those previous five meetings, looked anything like they do right now.
Last night you could see what happens when everything clicks. It’ll be a lot harder tonight. It’ll be awfully tough for the Knicks to come out with a win. But if they were to somehow pull it off, with Lin (current NBA good) overcoming LeBron (current NBA evil), heading into the All-Star Break, all the madness of the last three weeks … it will, somehow, ratchet up even higher. The Knicks will have a chance to gauge where they are tonight, playing against the best. Considering the way things are going these days, it is madness to even attempt to predict what will happen. It’d be even crazier still to imagine missing it.