With the 2012 NBA All-Star Game just around the corner, many New York Knicks – namely Jeremy Lin – could really use a break. And while Lin, as well as Carmelo Anthony, will be a part of the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, there’s a difference between playing meaningful games and doing interviews and making appearances. The four-day break will be huge but, before that, the Knicks have two huge games, beginning tonight when they host the Atlanta Hawks. It should be a very interesting test for these new Knicks, as many figure them to be better than the Hawks.
The 19-13 Hawks are once again hanging around the middle of the Eastern Conference. It seems like they’ve been the same team every year for the past three or four seasons. They’re simply not talented enough to join the conversation for the top of the East, but are clearly better than the non-playoff teams. The 2011-12 Hawks have been impressive, if not for any other reason, in that they’re enjoying a successful season without their best overall player, Al Horford, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Joe Johnson is scoring less (17.6 points per game) than he ever has since joining the Hawks in 2005-06, but Josh Smith continues to follow the under-the-radar motif, nearly averaging a double-double with 16 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest. The game will pit two of the league’s top-10 teams in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions); the Knicks rank sixth, the Hawks ninth.
Knicks fans want to see their team head into the All-Star Break on a high note, and the only real way to do so would be to beat the Hawks tonight and the Miami Heat on Thursday in South Beach. It’s a tall order, especially Thursday against the best and hottest team in the league. But first things first. All eyes again will be on Carmelo Anthony, who came back from injury on Monday night as the Knicks fell to the Nets. Anthony had just 11 points, and while rust was certainly an issue, many are going to continue to be skeptical that Anthony can seamlessly re-join the team without disrupting their ever-growing chemistry under Lin.
On the road at Miami on Thursday will present a tough environment for Lin, Anthony and the Knicks to work out the kinks, so a good performance tonight against the Hawks could go a long way toward easing the fears of Knicks fans, the media, and the team heading into the second half of the season.