The Knicks End the First Half With a Reality Check

Loss in Miami shows how much work remains to be done

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Things would only get uglier from here.

    Maybe some good can come out of Thursday night.

    It wasn't easy watching the Knicks get run off the court by the Heat and the 102-88 final doesn't begin to explain the actual gulf between the two sides, but perhaps it was a good thing to have it happen just before the All-Star break.

    There have been whispering delusions of grandeur around the team since the arrival of Jeremy Lin that posit this team as a championship contender in the making. 

    Thursday night made it clear that no such thing was the case. The Heat are the class of the league and they are better in every facet of the game by a wide margin than the Knicks right now and, quite frankly, it is hard to imagine that changing all that much over the final 31 regular season games.

    There were long stretches on Thursday when it seemed like the Heat were just toying with the Knicks like a slightly bored cat bats around a ball of yarn. They seemed to steal the ball at will, often just ripping it out of the hands of Knicks players who made the mistake of picking up their dribble or hesitating for the slightest moment when trying to do something on offense.

    Miami didn't have its best night offensively, they missed a ton of dunks and open layups, but they were quicker to every loose ball and turned an early Knicks rebounding advantage (+13) into a five-board edge by the time the night was over. This is a very good basketball team that knows it is a very good basketball team and applies that knowledge with barely contained glee.

    LeBron James did everything, Chris Bosh took advantage of a defense that didn't take him seriously and Joel Anthony blocked shots like a latter-day Ralph Sampson. Last year's Heat had some weak links, but there aren't any in evidence right now.

    But at least the Knicks now know what they have to shoot for, hard as it may be to imagine they'll ever reach it. If nothing else, Thursday night's game should provide all the impetus in the world for them to make their way up the standings in the second half because facing the Heat in the first round will simply lead to another quick exit. 

    That was the team benefit, but there were some individual benefits as well. Jeremy Lin had a horrid night -- 1-11 shooting, eight turnovers -- and looked totally overmatched (and more than a little bit scared) against the Heat defense.

    You could see two strands of response developing on Twitter and TV in the wake of the game. The first is that Lin was being exposed and the second was that it was just one game, but the truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.

    Lin flew into the teeth of a defense perfectly suited to attack his weaknesses, namely his lack of a left hand and willingness to pick up his dribble too soon, and he needs to find ways to adjust his game now that so much tape of it is bouncing around the league.

    That said, other teams have tried the same thing and found much less success because they don't have the Heat's ability to put their plans into motion with such thundering ferocity.

    Few teams have the ability to do anything with the thundering ferocity with which the Heat do everything. Again, that's pretty much the key takeaway from the night.

    Another benefit of the night was a reminder that when things do break down for Lin, Carmelo Anthony is still able to do his thing offensively. It wasn't the prettiest night, although a 7-20 shooting line isn't helped by the refs' unwillingness to give Melo a whistle in the paint, but Anthony was the only offensive option that had success in the second half.

    Now they have a nice break to practice and use the lessons learned on Thursday night to become a better team in the second half. Lin, in particular, needs to remember what it feels like to get humiliated and figure out how to make sure that it never happens again.

    You can turn Thursday night into a positive, growth experience over the rest of the season or it can become the night the lights started to go out. We'll start finding out soon enough.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.