Knicks Problems Start at the Top: Linsanity Not the Takeaway from Loss to Heat

Dan Israeli Contributor IIIFebruary 24, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 21:  Amare Stoudemire #1 , and Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks talk during their pre season game  against the New Jersey Nets at Madison Square Garden on December 21, 2011 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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The inevitable has happened. Jeremy Lin put up a clunker.

Yes, the excessive turnovers (8) were nothing new, but 1-of-11 from the field was. Lin finished with just as many turnovers as points, and his lowest assist total (3) since this whole magical run began.

It was bound to happen for the same reason every other player in this league (with the exception of LeBron James and Kevin Durant) has had a game in which they stunk up the joint this season.

Kobe Bryant went 6-for-28 on Jan. 1. Chris Paul went 1-for-8 on Feb. 4. It happens, and for Lin, it almost needed to happen for him to realize that shots don’t always go down. The things that seem to work so well don’t always do so.

A friend called me crazy, but during the Knicks blowout of the Hawks one day prior to the Heat game, I opined, “Can anyone argue that Jeremy Lin is not the best player on this team right now?”

I meant it entirely in the context of the present, based on what I was watching during the game, and the previous game vs. the Nets, which also included Lin, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire in the lineup together.

My friend thought I was crazy to entertain such an idea, but the truth is, observing Lin as the best player on the team, and believing that he truly is the best player on the team are two entirely different things altogether.

For if Lin really was our best scorer, playmaker, and the guy we wanted getting the ball in game-winning situations; it would be extremely problematic for a team that is shelling out over a combined $36 million to two players that are supposed to be Top 15 in the league on the superstar scale.

Heading into Thursday night’s highly hyped matchup, expectations were fairly low for a Knicks victory, but it was very apparent that the team’s new Big Three (Anthony, Stoudemire, Lin) would have to match Miami’s Big Three (James, Wade, Bosh) for New York to have any shot at stealing a win.

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 23:  Jeremy Lin #17 of the New York Knicks drives against Joel Anthony #50 of the Miami Heat during a game  at American Airlines Arena on February 23, 2012 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
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And while Lin didn’t live up to his part of the bargain in grand fashion, he was the only player of the three worthy of reprieve. It shouldn’t be hard to forget that Lin is 23-years-old and basically a rookie when you consider his minutes last season in Golden State.

Anthony and Stoudemire don’t have such an excuse. Or a string of dazzling, efficient scoring performances that make up for one night of not getting some bounces, losing confidence in certain spots, and deferring the ball instead of dominating with it.

Going forward, when the team returns from a much-needed (for everybody) All-Star break, the Knicks will need to make a valiant push out of the seven seed (no easy task right now) to avoid the Juggernauts of the East, Miami and Chicago, in the first round of the playoffs.

The task will be made especially hard considering the Knicks' remaining schedule, which includes 19 current playoff teams in 32 games.

If the Knicks want to change their playoff fate, two things needs to happen, and the rest is just semantics.

It’s pretty simple when stated clearly; Anthony and Stoudemire need to start playing like superstars. And for them, during the entirety of their combined 17-plus seasons, that means thriving on the offensive end of the floor.

It’s something neither player did against the Heat, combining to go 7-of-27 for 32 points. While James and Wade didn’t necessarily blow them away in that regard (a combined 17-of-30 for 42 points), it was pretty clear which two players looked like superstars on Thursday night, and which two did not.

Right now, Anthony and Stoudemire don’t even look like Top 30 players in the league. Anthony cannot make a shot, while Amare is struggling to dominate in the paint and in transition.

Both players are also becoming highly predictable. Anthony’s only reliable move has been a hard drive to the basket finishing with a layup. Stoudemire, on the other hand, is relying heavily on his spot-up jumper from the left.

Both players are getting their shots blocked regularly on plays that superstars are supposed to finish, or at least get to the line.

As one of Lin’s biggest supporters (I honestly believe that statement), reality sunk in a little tonight, as to his role as a leader on this team, and the significance his possessions will have moving forward as the starting point guard of the New York Knicks.

Lin may have been phased tonight, but he has shown too much potential at such an early and inexperienced age for people to write him off as a “better story than a basketball player,” as one Twitter troll did after the Heat game.

Lin has become a story because of his basketball play, and one bad game on the road against one of the best defensive teams in the league should do little to change that.

The bigger reality of the night was that New York’s two supposed best players are both suffering a major identity crisis right now, and the unified problem will need to correct itself if the Knicks ever envision themselves as a championship contending team.

Not with LeBron and Wade wreaking havoc on the Heat. Not with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and to be fair, James Harden scorching the good Earth on the Thunder.

The Knicks need to prove to themselves that Lin is a necessity and not a luxury as the team’s starting point guard, but also a luxury and not a necessity as one of the team’s best players. It’s up to Amare and Melo for everything in that theory to fall into place.