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Thursday, February 23, 2012
Debate: Can Knicks handle Heat?

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network

The time has come for Jeremy Lin to face the King. How will the Knicks fare against last season's Eastern Conference champions?


1. Jeremy Lin's emergence has been ________________.



Danny Chau, Hardwood Paroxysm: A blessing. A true-to-life deus ex machina. Lin has been stunning in the last 11 games. With the Knicks finally getting healthy, he won't have to bear the entire load. His numbers may take a dip, and the craze may subside a bit, but Lin will still bring something the Knicks haven't had all season: stability at the point.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Enlightening. There are many arresting threads in this story, but none more important than the one Lin seems least interested in: the examination of the widely held expectations of Asian American identity. You can't look away from him on the court, and that's helped us think more about his symbolic significance off the court.

Noam Schiller, Hardwood Paroxysm: A godsend. Yes, the NBA is a superstars league, but scouring the scrap heap for serviceable contributors is the most cost-effective way to improve rosters that are set in stone. Regardless of how much longer Lin can keep playing at an All-Star level, the Knicks turned their worst position into a position of strength. That's huge.

Robert Silverman, Knickerblogger: Jeremy Lin's emergence. Not to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, but Lin has been so astoundingly compelling precisely because his emergence has been such an original, archetype-defying event. He's not Tebow or Rocky or even Teen Wolf. The best part? Because he's smashing every available narrative convention(s), we have no idea how the rest of this tale will play out.

Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Inspirational. NBA D-League players and big league benchwarmers across the country are trying to convince their coach that they're the next Jeremy Lin. This league is as much about opportunity as it is about talent. Lin benefited from the perfect storm of both. But keep in mind that the Knicks had to get absolutely desperate at the point guard position in order to finally give the kid a chance.


2. LeBron James' season has been ________________.



Chau: Remarkable. LeBron is putting up the best and most efficient numbers of his career while playing the least amount of minutes. He's running away with the MVP award this season, barring catastrophe. I guess all it took was a season to let everything in his world settle in and settle down.

Mason: Quietly phenomenal. Maybe it's just become a matter of course for James to dominate so thoroughly, or maybe last season's media blitz has us feeling LeBron fatigue, but he's really been on a higher plane this season. He's the obvious MVP, with a career-high PER, and a leading candidate for defensive player of the year, all on the league's best team.

Schiller: Extraterrestrial. This should have been a year of regular-season apathy marinated in fatigue. Instead, LeBron is in the midst of his best season in a career full of ridiculously high regular-season standards. Dominating until mid-April isn't what will get the well-earned criticism to go away, but it should still be recognized.

Silverman: His finest to date. Now that he's begun to add a proto-low post game (as fans and pundits have been pleading with him to do for eons), he's approaching virtually un-guardable territory. Say what you will about the limitations of PER, but, should he finish at 32.6, not only will it be LeBron's finest season, but it will arguably be among the best ever. Of course, if the Heat don't win it all …

Wallace: Unfinished. Say what you will about him having the most efficient season of any player in league history. He should be commended for that. But the bottom line with LeBron is that we've seen these sort of statistical lines from him in the past, although not quite as good as this season. We know he's regular-season great. But he needs championship validation.


3. The Knicks' chemistry issues: Good problem or bad problem?



Chau: Good problem. If Carmelo Anthony's first game back was any indication, there will be challenges in getting chemistry right for a playoff push, but it won't be due to a lack of effort on Melo's part. Gaining that chemistry will take time, especially as they wait for Melo to get back into game shape, but it's not an impossible task.

Mason: Good problem. The Knicks have almost as much depth as they did before trading for Carmelo, and more talent. I don't think chemistry issues will be as big as defensive issues arising from playing J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire at the same time.

Schiller: Good problem. Three weeks ago, this was still "Melo's team," some people were OK with that, and … the Knicks were going to miss the playoffs. Even if the new-look Knicks can utilize only 50 percent of Carmelo Anthony and 70 percent of Jeremy Lin, that still beats 32 percent shooting from the floor by Toney Douglas.

Silverman: Good problem. It'd be swell if integrating Amare and Melo into the newly Lin-centric Knicks were a stumble-free dance, but in a season devoid of practice and/or down time, one would have to top Pollyanna on the optimism meter to think there wouldn't be a few hiccups. Even in the last two error-filled, herky-jerky games, you can see flashes of how potent -- should all the disparate elements coalesce -- the Knicks' offense could be.

Wallace: Good problem. As long as Lin is healthy, there's a puncher's chance that the Knicks will have at least some semblance of chemistry on the court. Although Lin can be a volume shooter at times, he's at his best when he's pushing the pace and creating space and opportunities for other scorers. Eventually, J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony will develop a rhythm with Lin. Suddenly, the Knicks have weapons everywhere.


4. The Heat's hot February: Good sign or no big deal?



Chau: Good sign. If it weren't for the attention Lin has gotten, we'd be hearing a lot more about the Heat's success. There are still kinks in the machinery here and there, but production from outside the Big Three, especially from Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Udonis Haslem, has been promising. With that much ammunition, the Heat should continue to roll.

Mason: Both! The Heat have their offense hummin', their bench engaged and their stars rested, healthy and mentally locked in. It's been an ideal start -- so good sign! But it's no big deal because nothing these guys do matters to most until they do it in June.

Schiller: Good sign. LeBron's disappearance in the 2011 Finals was baffling, but even when he showed up, he looked visibly tired. In a season with even worse wear and tear, every single blowout means James and Wade will be better-equipped to destroy whoever they meet in June -- or, conversely, will have fewer excuses when they choose to bow out.

Silverman: No big deal. But only because the Heat are burdened by massive expectations. They're playing some truly frighteningly good ball, but we've been waiting for Miami to rain death from above like this for the last 1½ years. When the Knicks or the Spurs rip off seven- and 11-game winning streaks, respectively, it's a newsworthy story. If Miami were to drop three in a row, that would be a big deal.

Wallace: Good sign. This is the first time the Heat have had a relatively long stretch of good health since this Big Three project was put together in the summer of 2010. This time last year, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller weren't able to contribute, Shane Battier wasn't on the team and Norris Cole wasn't in the league. But now, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have a true support system that's come to fruition in February.


5. Could the Knicks give the Heat problems in the playoffs?



Chau: To be determined. At full strength, the Knicks look like an offensive juggernaut on paper. But what exactly do they look like at full strength? Amare Stoudemire hasn't looked like himself all season, and we'll have to see how Melo responds to the revamped offensive structure with Lin at the helm. All these questions currently point to a "no."

Mason: I can see it now! Chandler can handle Bosh, Stoudemire would hide against Joel Anthony, Carmelo often plays well against LeBron, and Lin is the type of relentless pick-and-roll point guard who can make Miami sweat. Still, it'd take a perfect series from the Knicks to push the Heat to six games.

Schiller: That depends on your definition of problems. Tyson Chandler has shown that he is very good at disrupting LeBron's play, and going up against two elite scorers in Melo and Amare is never easy. But if the Knicks want an honest shot at winning a seven-game series, they should be shooting for a matchup with another team.

Silverman: No. That said, a second-round NY-Miami tilt would make me giddy. As was the case with the Giants-Pats Super Bowl, it'll seem like every sentient NBA fan who doesn't live within spitting distance of South Beach will be pulling for Jeremy and his band of merry upstarts. Whether LeBron relishes donning the villain's cloak and dominates or crumbles under the weight of collective public disdain, you can't deny that it'll make for some amazing theater.

Wallace: Yes. Absolutely. No doubt about it. Problems, of course. But the question should be: Can they beat the Heat in a seven-game series? And that answer, for now, is no. The issue with the Knicks is that when they're playing their best basketball, it's a style that the Heat also would prefer to play. It's why you can't keep throwing fastballs to home run hitters. The Knicks would make it entertaining. But I'm sure they'd prefer to face the conference's other big-boy team in Chicago.