Miami ‘D’ Turns Up the Heat in Exposing Lin, Knicks

COMMENTARY | Growing up as a diehard New York Knicks fan, and covering them for the past three seasons for New York Sports Day, I want to be wrong about the recent Lin-sanity craze surrounding the Knicks.

The buzz that I’ve experienced, first-hand of late, turning the Madison Square Garden I knew into a veritable Lin-sane Asylum, has been great for the Knicks, New York City, and the National Basketball Association.

So, I’m of course, still hopeful that point guard Jeremy Lin’s rags-to-riches story (in basketball terms), as great as it’s been, wasn’t due to the largely weak schedule the Knicks had been playing (as I’ve implied here and here) as much as anything else.

Thus, I’ve remained skeptical. I’ve needed to see more, against the teams that matter, in the places that matter.

Like Knicks’ trip to Miami on Thursday night — one that didn’t go well, during a 102-88 loss in which Lin not only failed to play like the guard who posted 28 points and 14 assists while leading New York to a home victory over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, but he was actually as bad or worse than the group of point guards the Knicks unsuccessfully auditioned before all of the Lin-related hype began.

For a couple of very brief, early moments, Lin was about to prove me wrong again — like the night before, in an easy home win over Atlanta.

Lin assisted on his team’s first two baskets, setting up the Knicks’ two biggest stars — forwards Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire — as New York grabbed a 4-2 lead 2:27 into the game.

And, then reality set in — the type that’s the difference between looking like an all-star in Washington or Toronto, and the flip side of trying to beat the 26-7 Miami Heat on its home floor.

The first field goal came for Lin on a nice driving layup that kept the Knicks within 17-15 with 3:48 left in the opening quarter.

However, it was Lin’s only made shot, as he missed his final ten field goal attempts. Before that basket, were three turnovers by Lin, and then five more. Meanwhile, Lin would hand out only one more assist on the night, as he was hounded and harassed by an active Heat defense that took away the Knicks’ staple pick-and-roll.

In 34:19 of action, Lin was held to a mere eight points on 1-of-11 shooting from the floor, and three harmless assists, while committing a game-high eight turnovers.

A sharp contrast to the Lin-fallible, nearly Lin-vincible floor general that an overeager New York fanbase and media prematurely built up without some much-needed further proof against a quality schedule (which will arrive in spades, down the stretch of the regular season, in March and April).

Although there were pre-game rumors that Heat star forward LeBron James might often guard Lin, it was actually point guards Mario Chalmers and Lin’s fellow mid-major product, Norris Cole (from Cleveland State) who caused enough problems for Lin.

At one point in the first quarter, Lin, after taking an inbounds pass, was embarrassingly stripped near his own foul line by Chalmers, who then threw down an uncontested dunk.

Another alarming sign for those who have gone Lin-sane too soon was at the other end of the floor, where Lin, as he did against New Jersey’s Deron Williams in a loss on Monday night, struggled defensively, along with the rest of the Knicks.

Miami’s Big Three of James (20 points, nine assists, eight rebounds, five steals), guard Dwyane Wade (22 points, five rebounds, five assists), and forward Chris Bosh (25 points, eight rebounds) couldn’t be contained by New York, especially after a Knick turnover, when Lin and other Knicks had trouble with their transition defense.

Knicks’ head coach Mike D’Antoni chalked his ponit guard’s struggles up to being part of a learning curve for Lin, who is still extremely new to being an NBA starter.

While that’s certainly a valid explanation for a player making only his ninth NBA start, you’d never have known that Lin needed to learn anything if you bought into the inflated Lin-fatuation that swept the globe in a scant 20 days before the Heat exposed Lin and the Knicks.

Instead, what I believed the most over Lin’s earlier hot streak came to fruition in his first meeting against the Heat — that the Lin hysteria was largely a product of playing either poor teams, or in a couple of cases, better teams at home rather than on the road.

Thursday night, against an elite team away from the friendly confines of The Garden was the true test I wanted to see, and it was one that Lin and the Knicks failed.

The potential is there for New York, which is suddenly as deep as any team in the league, with sharpshooter Steve Novak, scorer J.R. Smith, defensive specialist Jared Jeffries, and although he hasn’t played well in limited time, veteran point guard Baron Davis, all off the bench to compliment starters Lin, Anthony, Stoudemire, the toughness that center Tyson Chandler brings and the sometimes dynamic sparks contributed by forward Landry Fields.

There’s also the forgotten but capable contributor in guard Toney Douglas (who played well last season before losing his job to Lin this year) and the currently injured but useful reserve center, rookie Josh Harrelson, as well.

However, impatient Knick fans, waiting for an NBA title since 1973 and for contending playoff basketball from the Knicks since the 1999, and a relentless, impulsive media have all helped to push Lin’s story too far, too quickly.

Realistic followers of Lin’s saga temper the recent success of the Knicks and their new point guard by putting everything in perspective for now.

Particulalry after seeing the Knicks’ win over Dallas on Sunday being sandwiched by New York’s home losses to a pair of bad teams (New Orleans and New Jersey).

As I’ve been predicting, Lin and the Knicks becoming on par with a Heat team that just won an eighth straight game by double digits, is going to take time, if that happens at all.

Perhaps a lot more time than all of the Lin-sanity believers thought before Thursday night.

Photo: Jonathan Wagner (Madison Square Garden; New York, NY; February 17, 2012)


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