Jeremy Lin had an easy night ahead of his toughest opponent yet, and the New York Knicks tuned up for their trip to Miami by beating the Atlanta Hawks 99-82 on Wednesday night.
Lin had 17 points and nine assists, sitting out most of the fourth quarter in a rare game during his remarkable run that the Knicks needed little from him.
Carmelo Anthony scored 15 points in his second game back from injury for the Knicks, who led the depleted Hawks by 25 points at halftime. New York bounced back from a loss to New Jersey on Monday and won for the ninth time in 11 games since Lin joined the rotation.
They visit Miami on Thursday in their final game before the All-Star break, and Lin's emergence has the Heat's attention.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and teammates have been asked repeatedly in recent days about the ex-Harvard guard, and coach Mike D'Antoni was told the word out of Miami is the NBA's hottest team will be waiting for the Knicks' back-to-back Sports Illustrated cover boy.
"At the airport?" he joked.
Not quite. But whatever they do will provide more resistance than the Hawks, who trailed by as many as 30.
Jeff Teague scored 16 points for the Hawks. They played without All-Star guard Joe Johnson, who left their loss at Chicago on Monday with a sore left knee and had to pull out of Sunday's game in Orlando, and have lost three straight and five of six.
The Knicks shot 52 percent in the first half, scored 30 points in both periods, and led 60-35 at the break.
They lost their focus briefly midway through the third before pulling away again to lead 78-56 heading into the fourth. Lin watched the first 6-plus minutes of the final period before D'Antoni curiously put him back in leading by 20 with 5:13 left. Lin still played only 33 minutes after he logged at least 36 in all but one of the previous 10 games.
He'll likely need to do more against the Heat, who have won seven in a row and have the NBA's best record at 26-7.
The Heat have been the NBA's biggest story since building their Big Three in 2010, but even they've been flying under Lin's radar in the last two weeks. That will change Thursday in a nationally televised game that James said could be "one of the most watched games we've had in a long time, especially with what Jeremy Lin is doing."
The game against Atlanta came on the one-year anniversary of the Knicks' acquisition of Anthony from Denver in a blockbuster trade that cost them four of their top six players. The results have been underwhelming — 14-14 last season and 17-17 this season, and D'Antoni acknowledged the high price the Knicks paid for the All-Star forward "depleted a lot of things."
However, he said they've built their depth back, and the potential was obvious in the first half, when all nine players who played scored.
New additions Baron Davis and J.R. Smith could be an explosive second-team backcourt, and teamed up on a pretty alley-oop that Smith dropped in with his back to the hoop. Steve Novak is the 3-point specialist needed to space the floor so Lin and Anthony have room to drive into the lane.
Novak scored 17 points, Landry Fields had 16, and Smith finished with 12.