Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Thursday, February 23, 2012
Irked Heat want to kick sand on Knicks

By Stephen A. Smith
ESPNNewYork.com

While New York Knicks fans were busy chanting, "Go New York! Go New York! Go!" amid the trouncing the team delivered to the dysfunctional Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, the Miami Heat were chilling in South Beach, saying, "Come on! We're waiting!"

Amid all the hype and hoopla surrounding Jeremy Lin and the resurgence of the Knicks, don't think for one second it hasn't annoyed LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

James has appeared exasperated over having to answer one question after another about the Harvard grad-turned-phenom. Wade has gotten to the point where he's openly mocked Lin's ascension to prominence as "the tooth fairy put that under the pillow. The Knicks woke up to that."

Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James
Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James will be All-Star teammates Sunday. They'll go head to head Thursday.

Put yourself in the Heat's shoes. Of course the defending conference champions are ticked off!

In the midst of the Knicks' 9-2 surge since we learned of Lin's existence -- catapulting New York, now 17-17, to a mediocre record -- the Heat (26-7) reeled off seven straight wins and have done so with Wade having recently returned from injury and playing superbly, while James is, arguably, the league MVP. Again!

Miami is more explosive offensively than the Knicks. The Heat play better, more consistent defense than the Knicks. Their stars are bigger and better, with more acclaim. Their record, and championship expectations, validate as much. "And they're feeling like that's something the Knicks and the rest of the basketball world need to be reminded of," a confidant said.

So what are the Knicks going to do about it?

"We can use [the game] kind of as a measuring stick," Knicks center Tyson Chandler told reporters after the Hawks game. "But once we get back after the All-Star break and are able to get some quality practices in, we can make more of a judgment."

Actually, Chandler's wrong on that last part.

Judgment begins tonight. On national television. With the world waiting for Linsanity to invade Hollywood East. Against arguably the best team in the NBA. Specifically because the Heat are as responsible for the roster the Knicks have assembled as James Dolan's deep pockets.

There's a reason Amare Stoudemire wanted to come to the Garden. Why Carmelo Anthony so desperately wanted the bright lights of Broadway. Why the Knicks didn't care, ultimately, that they were giving away four players, including Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari, for him. Why the usually reclusive Dolan looked like the diminutive kid in the candy store while taking pictures with Gotham's version of a big three after inking Chandler to $55 million over the next four years.

The message was simple and obvious: Everyone doesn't have to take their talents to South Beach. The Knicks are not conceding anything to the Heat.

Well, fine! The message has been received loud and clear.

Now show us something. Right now.

We've seen Lin average 23.9 points and 9.2 assists over an 11-game stretch that included seven sub-.500 teams. So what's he going to do now? Since Stoudemire felt he should have been in South Beach instead of Chris Bosh, show us!

If Carmelo can boast a 9-4 record in career individual matchups versus LeBron, what's wrong with expecting to see him flourish Thursday night? Since Miami is one of the premier defensive teams in the game, what are you ready to show, Chandler?

If the Knicks have a missing piece in all of this, it's injured rookie Iman Shumpert, a terrific on-ball defender whose size, long arms and defensive tenacity will be missed against James and Wade. But that's about all, and it's nothing a front line costing $223 million shouldn't be able to resolve for one evening in Miami.

"We'll be ready," Stoudemire exclaimed just days ago.

"We better be," Anthony added, "because we know [Miami] will be."

Exactly! The Heat will be ready. Especially James and Wade. Because that is what stars do.

They rise to the occasion. They look to steal moments, even the kinds that are manufactured, all with the sole purpose of sending a statement that superstars such as themselves hold such stature for a reason.

That Lin is a part of this conversation says something about him. But it will say even more about Stoudemire and Anthony, and all of the Knicks, if they don't step up Thursday night.