Are the Knicks Returning to Sanity?

When was the last time you can remember a perpetual .500 team such as the New York Knicks captivating the nation and becoming the biggest story in the sport, the most mesmerizing team to watch?

Well ,the Denver Tebows did it just three months ago. And the Giants were 7-7 before going on a Super Bowl title run. Okay, so maybe it's not as unique as I thought.

While many comparisons have been made between the personal stories of Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow during this recent rise to stardom by Lin, the effects these two men have had on their respective teams holds up even better. Lin instantly made the Knicks better, driving them to a 7-game winning streak as soon as he began getting major time on the floor. Several of these games required last-minute comebacks and big shots made by Lin in the final seconds. There was also The Statement victory against a stunned Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in Game 4 of Linsanity. The culmination of this came in Toronto when Lin drained a daring three-pointer with just 0.5 seconds left to beat the Raptors to a rare road-standing ovation on Asian Heritage Night.

All this may have impressed the likes of Tim Tebow, but his resume of late-game heroics and comebacks was no less impressive, with the unlikely comeback win over the Miami Dolphins to start his run or the 20-yard touchdown run against the Jets. There was the heart-stopping reversal against the Bears, who only needed to run out the clock properly to ensure victory.

The unsettling thing for Knicks fans is how quickly the streak of dominance has dissolved, much in the same manner it did for Tebow's Broncos, who ended up losing their final three games in ugly fashion, revealing obvious weaknesses in their chosen one's game.

While the Knicks have not fallen apart, they have gone back to being the epitome of a .500 team. Win one night, lose the next. Rinse and repeat. Lin has also been exposed at times as turnover prone and not a strong enough one-on-one defender against a scoring point guard. The Miami Heat limited Jeremy to 1-for-11 shooting with only 3 assists in a 102-88 loss just over a week ago.

And yet on other nights, he has the entire offense finely orchestrated; a ringmaster with the baton. (After all, what better place to host the circus than Madison Square Garden?) Steve Novak knocks down open threes, Landry Fields gets back door passes for easy layups, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire get alley-oops and post-up opportunities, Lin takes a few to the rim himself, absorbing whatever contact necessary to draw an and-one, and the opponents cry uncle as they are subdued by too many weapons.

And yet they still have not risen from the waters of .500 since January 12th, when they were 6-5, long before any New Yorker ever heard of Jeremy Lin. It was assumed to be a matter of time before they climbed their way up the eastern conference standings, but they have now alternated wins and losses for eight consecutive games. The last defeat in Boston was particularly painful as a three-pointer from Paul Pierce tied the game with under 5 seconds remaining and the Knicks fell in overtime to the geriatric Celtics. What's worse is this will be followed by a back-to-back Texas two-step: at Dallas, then at San Antonio. The 76ers and Bulls follow shortly thereafter. Suddenly, breaking out over .500 is far from a foregone conclusion.

Last season, the Carmelo Anthony trade generated considerable excitement even as it brought inconsistent play. The feeling was the Knicks were relevant for the first time in many years, at least until they got swept out of the first round of the playoffs. As 'Melo and Stat struggled to play together for much of this season, the Melo trade started to seem in retrospect more like a pathetic blip on the radar in the wasteland of recent Knicks failures. Lin has briefly revitalized that hope of a winner on the horizon.

That hope still hangs in the balance. For basketball in New York to become relevant again, it is not simply enough for the Knicks to win their first playoff game in 11 years, they need to win a playoff series. At the rate they are moving, this may require a highly-unlikely 1-8 seed first round upset if they cannot recapture the consistency of their previous 7-game Lin streak.

The current Knicks squad has talent, diversity, and depth. Stoudemire, Anthony, and Lin hold the keys to potentially usher in a new era of Knicks basketball that could wash away the darkness of the 2000s and even the perpetual playoff heartbreaks of the Patrick Ewing era. Or it could just become another Starbury-sized false alarm.

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April 23, 2012


linsanity is over for good

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