Amar’e Stoudemire is an afterthought, and Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler are hurt.
So meet the new “Big Three” of the New York Knicks – Jeremy Lin, J.R. Smith and Steve Novak.
The trio combined to lead the Knicks to a nationally televised 104-97 victory over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, their eight win in nine games.
Remember the calls for coach Mike D’Antoni’s job and the blind hope that Baron Davis and his balky back would be the season’s savior? Although it may seem like it was in another millennium, it was just over two weeks ago. Now, their biggest problem right now appears to be getting everyone healthy and figuring out how the original “Big Three” can play with the new “Big Three.”
Lin is still the driving force behind the startling turnaround, and it is really time to start taking this kid seriously. Yes, he commits a lot of turnovers. Yes, there are long-term questions about his defense and his durability. But the bottom line is he makes his teammates better, which is exactly what you want from the guy running your offense.
During his magical run, Lin has more than held his own against Deron Williams, John Wall, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Tyreke Evans and Jason Kidd. The Knicks have won three road games and have beaten the Lakers and Mavs at home. This is not a fluke anymore, folks. At the very least, this is a trend.
From Howard Beck of the New York Times: “Some moments are more symbolism than substance, enticing in their imagery but lacking in heft. In his brief time in the N.B.A. spotlight, Jeremy Lin has skillfully fused it all, delivering meaningful plays with maximum effect. Lin’s fourth-quarter pull-up 3-pointer over Dirk Nowitzki was not the most important shot Sunday afternoon, but it made the greatest impression, and it said everything about Lin’s professional growth spurt, his instant stardom and his uncanny comfort under pressure. In a nationally televised game, against the defending N.B.A. champions, Lin rose ever higher, leading the Knicks to a thrilling 104-97 victory over the Dallas Mavericks at Madison Square Garden. Lin scored 28 points and set another career high in assists, with 14, as the Knicks (16-16) secured their most significant win of the season. They did it against a Mavericks defense that ranks among the N.B.A.’s best, one that deployed every means imaginable to stop Lin, the league’s newest star.”
A handful of those assists went to Smith, the Knicks’ newest arrival. He began this season in China and experienced both the highs and lows of playing overseas, ringing up a 60-point game but also coming close to being fired by his team.
The mercurial Smith has some support within the Knicks organization, most notably from Anthony and Mark Warkentien, his former teammate and GM with the Denver Nuggets. That probably eased his nerves a bit, and he entered Sunday’s game with both guns blazing.
More from Beck: “Smith signed with the Knicks on Friday, after playing a full season with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls in China. He arrived in great shape but had no time to practice with the Knicks or even familiarize himself with the playbook before pulling on his No. 8 jersey. Coach Mike D’Antoni had hedged about even playing Smith on Sunday, but he used him for 30 minutes, including the final 17, in part because of Iman Shumpert’s foul trouble and ineffectiveness. “With J. R. in there, we had no plays,” D’Antoni said, chuckling. “I kind of like to play that way. It’s hard to scout. We’re just moving the ball.” Smith had his best moments offensively in the first quarter, when he scored 9 points. He made his first shot, a step-back 3-pointer, and — as is his habit — kept firing. He attempted (and missed) a 3-pointer with 17 seconds on the shot clock. But he converted his next two 3-pointers as Madison Square Garden boomed, then fed Jeremy Lin for a 3-pointer to cap a 17-0 run.”
Smith had not even practiced with the Knicks but still hoisted 16 shots, including nine 3-pointers. He seemed to have a quick basic familiarity with the offense, which is one of Lin’s strengths – getting his teammates the ball where they are most effective. But some insensitive idiots credited the familiarity to something else.
From Daniel O’Leary of the New York Daily News: “Former University of Kentucky star Rex Chapman made a racially charged joke via Twitter after the Knicks 104-97 win over the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks on Sunday. Chapman, who played 12 NBA seasons with the Hornets, Bullets, Heat and Suns after a celebrated college career, shared his thoughts on the Knicks addition of J.R. Smith, who played in China during the NBA lockout and made his Knicks debut Sunday.”
You would think Chapman would have a little more sense. A coach’s son, he has spent his virtually his entire life in and around basketball, a highly multiracial vocation. He dated a black woman at Kentucky, even though school officials told him to keep it low-key. And his sister dated former NFL cornerback Louis Billups, who was black.
Chapman had nothing to tweet about Novak, a former Mav whose fit in the offense also has been accentuated by Lin. After Dallas stormed back to take the lead entering the fourth quarter, the journeyman sharpshooter came alive, scoring all 14 of his points in the final period.
From John Jeansonne of Newsday: “Benchwarmers of the world, unite. Even as the No. 17 Knicks replica jerseys are flying off the shelves for a certain former fourth-string point guard, No. 16 should be a hot seller after its owner’s exuberant display of critical long-range shooting in Sunday’s 104-97 victory over the reigning NBA champion Mavericks. “Oh, I don’t think so,” Steve Novak said of the souvenir market. “Mr. Lin has got that wrapped up.” A few weeks ago, the 6-10 Novak, like Jeremy Lin, was seen in practice but barely heard from in games. But now that there increasingly is room in the Knicks’ cut-and-paste offense for former no-names, Novak’s cold-blooded three-point touch in the game’s big moments has Knicks icon/broadcaster Walt Frazier calling him “Novak-aine.” “I’ve heard that,” Novak said. “I love it.”
The Knicks have home games vs. New Jersey and Atlanta before paying a visit to Miami on Thursday, the last night before the All-Star break. Anthony could return as early as Monday, the same day Chandler has tests on the wrist he injured in a fall in Sunday’s win.
But if the Knicks do not have their original “Big Three,” they know they can fall back on the newer, cheaper version.
Meanwhile, the Heat’s “Big Three” continues to be the model everyone wants to emulate. Miami won its sixth straight game – all by double digits – as it obliterated Orlando, 90-78, impressing former President Clinton, among other luminaries. Dwyane Wade scored 27 points, LeBron James added 25, 11 rebounds and eight assists and Chris Bosh just missed his fourth double-double during the streak with eight points and nine boards.
From Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post: “If the Miami Heat keeps playing like this, maybe it will get to visit a president, rather than having a president visit it. With former President Bill Clinton joining Heat owner Micky Arison at courtside, the Heat celebrated Presidents’ Day early Sunday, racking up its sixth straight landslide victory, 90-78 over Orlando behind Dwyane Wade’s 27 points at the AmericanAirlines Arena. It was the sixth straight double-digit win for the Heat, the sixth straight time key players enjoyed ample rest after Miami seized control early and never let off the throttle. If you were looking for drama, you had to check Row 1 of courtside, where a few feet down from Clinton sat two young children who wound up with 6-foot-8, 250-pound LeBron James on their laps after James tried to close down Ryan Anderson on a three-point attempt. The kids came out of it in far better shape than the Magic. “They were smiling,” James said. “They had two lollipops in their hands. That’s always the cure.”
There’s also a pretty good “Big Three” facsimile in Oklahoma City in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. But for one day, Harden was supplanted by teammate Serge Ibaka. They accounted for a first in NBA history – a 50-point game, a 40-point game and a triple-double by teammates in the same game. Oh, yeah, they also accounted for an improbable overtime win on what is quickly becoming the NBA’s toughest home court.
Durant scored a career-high 51 points, including five in the last 30 seconds of regulation that tied the game after the Thunder looked done. Westbrook rang up 40 points and still found time for nine assists. And Ibaka had 14 points, 15 rebounds and 11 blocks. It was just enough to hold off the pesky Nuggets.
From Berry Tramel of the Daily Oklahoman: “George Karl likes the mission he’s accepted. The Nuggets coach is out to prove that you don’t need superstars to win big in the NBA. For much of Sunday night, Karl was building a case. Then the old you-need-superstars theory rose up. Rose up big. The amazing tale of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook reached its zenith Sunday night as the Thunder bounced Karl’s Nuggets 124-118 in overtime. Durant’s ascension to basketball royalty? Westbrook’s rise to superstardom? Neither could be disputed after one of the wildest games in Oklahoma City’s NBA history.”
- If the Lakers are going to break up their “Big Three” with a trade of Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant would like them to go ahead and do it already. After they were strafed by Steve Nash in a 102-90 loss at Phoenix, Bryant let loose with a few F-bombs during his diatribe.
- The Timberwolves got a gift 92-91 home win over the suddenly slumping Sixers when Kevin Love made two free throws with 0.1 seconds left, courtesy of a highly questionable rake foul call on Andre Iguodala, who has a rep as a solid defender. Philly has lost three in a row for the first time this season and really misses Spencer Hawes, who is out until after the All-Star break.
- On a much less egregious call against Tyreke Evans – also in the final second – Kyrie Irving drained two free throws with 0.4 seconds left to give the Cavaliers a 93-92 win over the Kings, who are now 0-4 on their six-game trip. Sacramento rookie point guard Isaiah Thomas had 23 points and 11 assists.
- Rajon Rondo was in sourpuss mode again in Boston’s 96-81 loss at Detroit, its second setback to the Pistons in five days. The Celtics already were without Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass when Rondo – upset with a non-call in the third quarter – flung the ball at a referee and was ejected. There’s leadership, hunh? Boston is 0-2 on a five-game trip. Next stops are Dallas and Oklahoma City.
- After ending a 16-game skid Friday, the Bobcats are back to being the Bobcats, falling behind 21-2 in a 108-73 loss at Indiana. Big men Boris Diaw, Bismack Biyombo, Tyrus Thomas and Gana Diop all were scoreless in a combined 63 minutes. Charlotte trailed by 44 points with nine minutes to go.
- The Bucks ruined the return of Brook Lopez – which should restoke the Dwight Howard trade rumors sometime next week – with a 92-85 road victory over the Nets, who should be good and ashamed as Ersan Ilyasova had 29 points and 25 rebounds. That’s Ersan Ilyasova, 29 points, 25 rebounds. Once again, ERSAN ILYASOVA HAD 29 POINTS AND 25 REBOUNDS!!!
- Kyle Lowry made seven 3-pointers and scored 32 points and Luis Scola had 26 and nine boards as the Rockets defeated the visiting Jazz, 101-85. Hasheem Thabeet was a DNP with a sore lower back, which is what can happen when you sit on the bench for extended periods of time, like a month.