Cup Fever Sweeps New York

For the first time since 2007, both New York NHL teams are in the playoffs – and both teams are making some noise.

The sixth-seeded New York Rangers, after falling behind the Washington Capitals 2-0 in the series, have tied things up at two games apiece. The Blueshirts’ best postseason performer (much like the regular season) has been goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who through four games has a 2.44 GAA and .922 save percentage.

“King Henrik” has allowed some soft goals thus far, but it’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and that’s just what happens. Things get weird in the playoffs – rebounds, deflections, etc. – but Lundqvist has stood tall through four games versus Washington. Hank has kept Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin to just two points (one goal, one assist) thus far in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

On a half-related note, Ovi pulled this stunt in Game 4 at MSG Wednesday Night.

As far as skaters go, Carl Hagelin has arguably been the most impressive Ranger. After scoring twice in Game 4, Hagelin increased his playoff total to four – two goals, and two helpers. Hagelin’s speed, combined with his ability to finish, has been giving Washington fits in this series.

(Case in point: Hagelin netted this beauty of a goal during the Rangers’ Game 4 victory.)

If the Rangers wan to keep their momentum going, the most important factor for them is Rick Nash. Nash, one of the league’s most talented players, hasn’t really “Made it Nashty” too often through the first four games, as he only has one point – an assist – in the postseason. As a matter of fact, Nash has just two goals and an assist in his last eight games, including the regular season.

In fairness to Nash, he did take a page out of MSG co-tennant JR Smith’s book when he “got the pipe” near the end of regulation in Game 2. Close doesn’t cut it though, and after coming to New York in a big offseason trade, the Ranger faithful will surely be getting on Nash soon if he doesn’t produce when it matters most. He’ll get his next chance to impress Friday night at 7:30, when the Rangers and Caps drop the puck in our nation’s capital for a pivotal Game 5.

Now, let’s shift a few miles east.

The New York Islanders are in the midst of their first playoff appearance since 2007 – a first round exit to the Buffalo Sabres. Like 2007, the Isles are the Eastern Conference eight seed. However, unlike 2007, the Isles already have two wins over the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins and have forced at least a Game 6 in the series.

The Isles currently trail the Pens 3-2 in the series, but have a chance to even things up again on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum. There have certainly been some problems for the Islanders this series – bad line changes, silly penalties and less-than-stellar goaltending have all proven costly through the first five games. However, the heart and resiliency this team has shown has the fans beLIeving (see what I did there?) that anything is possible – including another comeback, and potentially even a monumental first round upset.

Going back to that goalie thing, though. Veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who had a good regular season, simply is not getting the job done in the first round against Pittsburgh.

Nabokov has some ugly stats for the series, including a save percentage of .847% (yuck) and a GAA of 4.69 (double yuck). Believe me, I understand what Nabokov is up against. Playing against an All-Star lineup with an (at times) overly aggressive defense in front of him is certainly no easy task. However, Nabokov has allowed some absolutely brutal goals, including a Douglas Murray shot that hopped over his shoulder an into the net.

Now, while Nabby has been the Isles’ best goalie all season without question, I believe Jack Capuano has a serious goaltending decision to make for Saturday’s Game 6. Kevin Poulin has stopped 14/15 shots this series (having come in in relief in Games 1 & 5). Does Capuano go with the 23 year-old backup, or stick with the (struggling) guy who got him there? That’s a tough call, and I’m glad I’m not the one to make it.

Let’s get to the positives from this series for the Islanders, because there have been a few. For one, Kyle Okposo has finally turned into the player everyone thought he could be. Through five playoff games, he has four points and a team-leading three goals. One of his biggest contributions, however, had nothing to do with point totals. Coming off a 5-0 drubbing in Game 1, the Isles found themselves down early again in Game 2. Down 3-1, Okposo took matters into his own hands (or fists) when Pittsburgh D-Man Matt Niskanen took out Matt Moulson in the neutral zone.

Okposo’s first career fighting major sparked the Isles to an inspired comeback, and very well may be the reason the team is still playing games.

Another positive for the Isles thus far has been the first overall pick from the 2009 Draft, John Tavares. The young superstar’s first playoff series is going quite well. Tavares has two goals and two assists through five games, and scored the eventual game-winner in Game 5, and it was a beauty. JT danced through the defense, put a shot on Fleury, knocked home the rebound, and sent the already-raucous Nassau Coliseum into a frenzy.

The Old Barn will be rockin’ again this Saturday night, but with a more nervous feel to it. Facing elimination, the Isles need to do a better job defensively against Crosby, Malkin, and the like. Just a reminder to Isles fans: In 1993, the Islanders dropped Game 5 of their playoff series to the Penguins.

Two games later, David Volek put the nail in Pittsburgh’s coffin. It ain’t over yet, folks.

So maybe neither the Islanders nor the Rangers are top-notch NHL squads. Maybe they’ll both be out within a few days. But for now, buckle up and enjoy the ride. Not much is better than the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Follow James on Twitter at @JamesStumper.

Ike Davis’ Struggles Extend Beyond the Ks

I could dedicate an entire post to Ike Davis’ miserable .169 batting average, or maybe his .315 slugging percentage. The fact that he has hit just four homers and driven in eight runs through 25 games is alarming too, but those are things we’re all made well aware of each day. He’s recorded 15 hits, and we’ve now entered the month of May.

Even the 195-strikeout pace Davis is on wouldn’t be as excruciating if the 26-year-old would demonstrate a hint of humility after getting punched out time after time.

But that’s the issue. He hasn’t. Through his four MLB campaigns, Davis seems to believe he’s entitled to borderline calls at the plate, which—for better or worse—are not given to players in their early 20s all that often. Although there is a way to eradicate that unwritten rule: to get on the umpiring crew’s good side. MLB Etiquette 101.

Either Ike isn’t aware of that, or believes he can complain his way to the benefit of the doubt. Four seasons, 364 games, and nearly 1,500 plate appearances into his Major League career, and Davis still can’t grasp the very simple concept of taking his lumps and sitting down quietly. This, unfortunately, is what deserves an entire post.

Davis has been prone to strikeouts over his career—that cat was let ouf the bag years ago. But it’s never been more apparent than in 2013. His strikeout percentage is up around 30 percent (chart via Fangraphs), which is more than five percent higher than in any prior season.

Through April 28, eight of Of Davis’ 26 Ks in 2013 have been punchouts. That equates to 31 percent of his strikeouts coming with the bat on his shoulder, which is a five percent increase from 2012 and seven percent higher than the league average.

I broke down the tape of those eight backwards-Ks, and found that Ike did his very best to show up the home plate ump on six of the eight strike-three calls. That comes out to a 75 percent Ike-Davis-Being-Immature rating—yeah, you can call me a sabermagician.

Note: One GIF from 4/10 vs. PHI was lost in the heat of battle :( . Davis has also struck out looking twice since 4/28 that I haven’t been able to retrieve video from. With or without the missing clips, the point still stands. Ike won’t be getting the close ones any time soon.

Included are strikezone plots for corresponding at-bats from Brooks Baseball.

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I hate to exert this much energy ranting against Ike, because I’ve been on his side of the Keep-Davis-or-Keep-Duda argument all along. His second-half numbers from 2012 were downright scary, and I didn’t think it was outrageous to expect the ball to continue rolling in that direction in 2013. Perhaps I was wrong.

The point here is that sometimes Davis has a legit gripe with the home plate ump. But acting out like a spoiled child leaving the toy store empty handed isn’t exactly the way to present an argument to said umpire (a grown man).

It’s an issue that Davis was approached about as early as 2010 as a rookie. Nearly three years later, it’s still an issue.

Ike’s struggles during his ABs are one issue—and don’t be mistaken, they’re plentiful—but its the lack of judgement after them that are especially concerning as he transitions from a precocious neophyte to a whiny veteran.

Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.

Stats and graphics obtained from Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs, and Brooks Baseball.

We Want Playoffs!

Grabner, who scored twice Tuesday, rips a puck down the ice against Florida. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

Grabner, who scored twice Tuesday, rips a puck down the ice against Florida. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

Tuesday night at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum was Fan Appreciation Night, and for the first time in a while, the Islanders faithful finally have something to appreciate.

The Islanders won again Tuesday night, lighting up the Florida Panthers 5-2. The Isles got contributions from all over, including two pretty goals by Michael Grabner.

The latest win gave the Islanders 49 points, good for sole possession of seventh place in the Eastern Conference and one point out of sixth. The Isles are now 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, and the playoff-starved fans on Long Island (and this one, who’s currently in New Jersey) are flying high. April the last five years at Nassau Coliseum hasn’t sounded like much of anything, because it’s been empty. However, these days, the old barn in Hempstead sounds like this.

The fan base is energized, and with good reason. The Isles haven’t made the playoffs since they snuck in as the eighth seed in 2006-2007, when folk hero Wade Dubielewicz led the team to an improbable late-season run. Now, they are in prime position to do so.

At the season’s outset, it didn’t seem like the Islanders would have much of a chance with the much-improved (or so we thought) New York Rangers, perennial-favorite Penguins, Flyers and Devils all in their division. However, the Isles have surprised everyone, and now have a magic number of eight points to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Any combination of eight points gained by the Islanders or lost by the Winnipeg Jets will put the Islanders into the playoffs for the first time in what seems like an eternity.

The final push will not be easy though, as New York hits the road for their final five games of the regular season, including a huge game in Winnipeg this Saturday night.

There have been many individual players that have impressed this season. John Tavares, with 24 goals, is making a legitimate case to be the Hart Trophy winner. Evgeni Nabokov has been front and center for a goaltending crew that hasn’t allowed more than two goals in nine consecutive games, tying a franchise record that was set in 2001.

However, what has been most impressive about the Islander’s playoff push is the team aspect that has finally come together. Secondary scoring  (as in goals from people who aren’t named John Tavares or Matt Moulson) is finally coming from players that we knew had potential all along. Guys like Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey are finally starting to come into their own after years of underachieving. This squad also has role players who do the dirty work, as Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Colin McDonald have all become fan favorites.

And let’s not forget Mark Streit. The captain since signing a deal in 2008, Streit has experienced zero success in the orange and blue. In the final year of that contract, he is finally in contention for a spot in the NHL’s big dance. Last night Streit addressed the Coliseum faithful after the win, thanking them for their support all season.Hopefully for Streit and the Isles, they’ll be back on the ice at the Nassau Coliseum sooner rather than later. As for now, they’ll take their act north of the border, with their next game Thursday night in Toronto.

Right now, the players are asking the fans to do one thing: beLIeve.

Where Art Thou, Pablo?: Why Prigs needs some big boy minutes

Let’s get this out of the way first: Pablo Prigioni is awesome. OK. Now disregarding how cool the guy is, let’s talk about why he needs more playing time from a strictly basketball perspective.

Judging by net-rating, Pablo is included in 8 of the Knicks’ 11 most efficient three-man groups (via NBA.com/Stats).

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Admittedly, many of the above threesomes come in very small sample sizes, but only because of Prigioni’s miniature dose of minutes in general—he’s logging 14.6 minutes for Mike Woodson on average.

So let’s bump up the criteria a bit. Below are the Knicks’ most efficient three-man lineups that have played at least 80 minutes together.

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Notice that Pablo still runs with three of these six best Knicks trios. And the Tyson-Felton-Kurt lineup just barely made the cut at 83 minutes. So there’s that.

Prigs’ minutes had been on the decline ever since Jason Kidd relocated to the second team to run point, essentially bumping Pablo out of the rotation. His burn dipped down to just 12.6 minutes per game from Feb. 6 to March 17.

Mike Woodson has recently tried to find minutes for Prigioni by plugging him in as starting point guard, shifting Ray Felton over to the 2. In three games as a #starer, Pablo has received the following minutes: 20, 20, 10—the 10 being most recent, and most concerning, considering his play didn’t particularly warrant a severe minutes slash (it rarely does), and Kidd, a day shy of 40 years old, was run out for 31 minutes. The Knicks play the last half of their back-to-back against Toronto tonight, so perhaps Woody may have been preserving Prigioni for the second leg of the home-and-home.

Whatever the case may be, Prigs has the ability to play a big role in the offense. He’s deserving of well more than the 14.6 minutes he averages on the year, and even the 16.6 he’s logged in the last 10 games. His minutes need to be leaning more towards the 20 from his first two starts than the 10 from his last, and if Woodson says it’s hard to find minutes for him, then tough shit! That’s part of the job as an NBA coach—to have the optimal personnel on the court at all times. And if it means cutting down Kidd’s minutes—no matter how much Woody likes having a “coach on the court”—too bad.

It’s not even as if playing Prigioni more hurts the team on either side of the ball. Since Dec. 15—the team’s last 45 games—Prigs has shot 43 percent from the field, 39.2 from the arc, and 93 from the stripe while dishing out three assists on average in 15 minutes per game. Compare that to Kidd’s line of 33 percent from the field, 29 from downtown, and 75 from the free-throw line, adding roughly the same amount of assists in 27 minutes. The argument could be made that Kidd should be the one averaging 15 minutes.

Sure, at 35 he’s not going to keep up in a foot race with younger 1s, but the same can be said (moreso) about Kidd. And we haven’t even mentioned Pablo’s awesome inbounds steals that we get to see about once a game.

And unlike the elder Knicks brethren he shares a locker room with, aside from a few back flare-ups, Prigioni has been relatively injury-free. Of course, this can be attributed to his lack of burn, but he’s played big-time minutes consistently—and healthily—as recently as last summer. As starting point man for the Argentinian national team, Prigioni averaged 28 minutes per game, including 36 and 37-minute performances. None of his six Olympic games were played more than four days apart.

Looking at it from all angles, it’s a real mystery why Prigioni is such an afterthought in Woodson’s rotation. Let’s just hope the madness comes to an end soon, because let’s face it: We can all use some more Prigs in our lives. Especially the Knicks.

Knicks Adjustments Need to Start at the Head (the very shiny head)

Mike Woodson

Photo via USA Today

I’ll admit I was weary when the Knicks re-signed Mike Woodson to a long-term deal last summer, fresh off another first-round playoff flop. I’ll also admit that I was a member of the gullible crowd just months ago that was convinced Mike Woodson was Coach of the Year material. After watching this Knicks team rise, fall, and level off through the last four months, I’ve realized I was wrong on both occasions.

When the man with the sparkling scalp, and the goatee an illustrator dreams of, took over Mike D’Antoni’s disgraced Knicks team, he arrived with a pretty mediocre reputation. Woody was D’Antoni’s defensive guy, and no one questioned his ability to preach defense. But his offensive schemes were an entirely different story.

As Hawks head man, Woodson made use of very few offensive sets, and often gave his star Joe Johnson free reign to run the show — what you and I know as “Iso-Joe.” This, more or less, held true last season in his 24 regular season games. But it worked. Carmelo Anthony’s USG% rose from 33 percent under D’Antoni to 37 percent under Woodson, and the Knicks rattled off 18 wins in those final 24 to finish seventh in the East. Then the matchup with Miami in the first round. Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis torn ACLs, confetti, streamers, blah blah blah. Carmelo’s USG% clocked in at 40.72 percent for the series, and the Knicks were done in 5.

Knicks management then decided to reward Woodson for his regular season run with a 3-year deal. This worried me. The guy could motivate and preach defense. We all knew that. But something about locking in your future with a coach whose career playoff record was 12-22 didn’t settle the right way. Call me crazy.

But the 2012-13 season began, and sure enough, Mike Woodson coached like nobody had ever seen him coach before.

There were passes. Passes everywhere. And screens. Off-ball screens. On-ball screens. Melo setting screens! It was as if you’d hooked the Knicks up to the computer on the hardest setting in 2K. Ray Felton, not Anthony, initiated the offense. Jason Kidd was at the wing on standby in case the ball needed a kickstart on its trip around the set. The ball flung rapidly about each Knick until one of the five found an open look.

Seriously, the passing was something else. Carmelo was using The Force to pass out of double-teams. He knew where all four other guys were at every second, and if his shot wasn’t there, he’d give it up. And oh yeah, J.R. Smith was passing.

J.R. Smith was passing.

And the defense, as we all expected, was among the league’s best. They destroyed the Miami Heat on opening night by allowing just 84 points. They didn’t allow more than 90 in three of their first four matchups. Through the first nine games, the Knicks were rocking a defense efficiency of 97.4, which would place second in the league right now. There were a few close calls, but Woody’s Knicks were murking teams almost every night out thanks to a dizzying array of passes and smothering defense.

Then those nine games were up. The Knicks were in Dallas in a nail-biter — the first late-game situation with Mike Woodson on the spot. It was 112-111 Dallas with 24 seconds left on the clock. The Knicks had been killing the Mavs in pick-and-rolls all night. Felton had 11 dimes and Tyson Chandler racked up 21 points. Woodson had been drawing up stellar plays out of timeouts all year. We were on the edge of our collective seat to watch the magic about to unfold. Then Woody just couldn’t kick his urge.

2012-13 got it’s first taste of Iso-Melo. He took the ball to the left, got Shawn Marion in the air on a ball fake but decided on the pull-up jumper. It missed, and the Knicks failed their first crunch time test of the season.

From that night on, the Knicks have been getting away from everything I just wrote about (aside from Iso-Melo). The most stark — and unexplainable — dropoff is the defense. Since those first nine games, the team’s defensive efficiency is 106. Overall that number stands at 102.9, or 14th league-wide (via HoopData). The Knicks went from being a top-five defense to a bottom-five defense in an alarmingly short time.

One of the most infuriating aspects of the defense’s demise comes directly from Woodson himself. Per his instruction, Knicks defenders switch on nearly every play involving a pick, instead of fighting through the screen. This leaves the Knicks with terribly unfavorable matchups all across the court — and far too often. The defensive woes were all supposed to vanish when Iman Shumpert rejoined the team in January. Due to a combination of (understandable) slow recovery on Shumpert’s part, and Woodson insisting on playing him out of position at small forward and not guarding the opposing point guard, Shump’s been the subject of league-wide slander for about a month.

Woodson has also neglected to remove Jason Kidd from the starting lineup, when it’s blatantly obvious he’s been overrun to this point. The glorious, reborn Kidd from the season’s first two months is only a faint memory now. These days, Kidd is everything you’d expect a 39-year-old point guard to be: really bad. Since Jan. 1, Kidd has shot 27 percent from the arc and 32 percent from the field. Yet he’s stil the Knicks starting shooting guard (Shumpert’s natural position), and Shump is still at the 3.

Woody has stuck with the same starting five for 12 of the last 13 games. The Knicks are 6-7 in them.

And that cool, team-oriented offense with the picks and the passes and stuff? That’s been on hiatus for almost as long as the defense has. For the last month, the offense is essentially this sequence:

  1. Felton or Anthony bring the ball up.
  2. Tyson receives the ball at the top of the key. Tyson passes it to the other side.
  3. Some unproductive passes occur. The shot clock winds down to 10. 9. 8…
  4. JR Smith takes a stepback jumper or Carmelo tries to draw contact at the rim.

The lack of sets on O has especially doomed Steve Novak, who was on the receiving end of a solid amount of open looks early on thanks to several screens. Nowadays, you can usually find Novak in either corner of the court, defender on his hip, desperately trying to position himself for a feed that never gets fed. In his last 12 games, Novak’s points per game are down to just six, and his three-point attempts are down to 3.8. For comparison, Novak was launching 6.1 attempts from deep upon entering the rotation last season.

Since Dec. 17, the Knicks have been the definition of an average team: 15-15 in their last 30 tries. The Garden has been the Mecca of Mediocrity for some months now, and the Knicks have their hot start to thank for their third place standing in the East.

That start is also what they’ll have to thank if they eventually do get back on track. For this team to win, Woodson can re-implement several aspects of November and December into the right-now. It’s amazing how far some set plays and defensive effort can go.

So no, Mike Woodson won’t be recognized as the league’s top coach. That was a bit naïve of us to expect. But he does have what it takes to get the Knicks back on track, and even make a serious run in the postseason — he proved that much to us back in November. Now it’s just a matter of if Woody can do what his predecessor never could: adjust. With the necessary changes, the Knicks could contend for a ring this spring. But they’ll need that coach from the first two months of the season to do it. That guy can coach.

Making Sense of the Senseless Jeremy Lin Situation

Well, if you turn to any national media source, you would be led to believe that Jeremy Lin has already bought a nice Houston home, and is looking forward to beginning training camp with the Rockets alongside, well, nobody. Although the Knicks have made a move to acquire point guard Ray Felton, Lin’s one-way ticket out of New York has not been punched yet, and if you try to use any ounce of common sense you have left after this NBA offseason, you’d realize that letting Lin walk wouldn’t make any sense at all.

Come to think of it, no part of this whole situation has made much sense from the very start. Ever since Coach Mike Woodson’s first days at the helm of the team, he’s been lukewarm-at-best on Lin. Peep this quote from May 10th:

“Will he start? Only time will tell. He’s had some success in our league where he’s played at a high level, and he’s done a lot of nice things for our ballclub.”

Not overly embracing words from Woodson. Fast forward to the acquisition of Jason Kidd, however, and Woodson seemed to have pulled a 180.

“Jeremy was our starter before he got hurt. Unfortunately he went down with the injury and he’s not going to be punished for that. He has a lot to do this summer. But when he comes back to veterans, he’ll have the first nod. He’ll be our starter, and Jason will back him up in terms of helping him develop and developing this young man into a great point guard.”

An interesting change of heart. But was it? Or was this simply a charade put on by the Knicks organization?

Jeremy Lin was gifted to the Knicks for practically nothing. Re-gifting, especially in this situation, is very bad.

After giving up significant pieces to acquire Felton, the latter seems more and more like reality. But why give these false endorsements? Why act as if the Knicks’ long-term option at point guard will be Jeremy Lin, when he’s already packing his bags?

On the other side of things, if Woodson’s words were sincere, why in the world would Raymond Felton agree to return to the Knicks as a 3rd point guard? Felton is coming off a rather miserable season, but he would presumably garner some interest as a first guard off the bench from some team. Was his desire to return to the Garden stronger than his desire to play meaningful NBA minutes?

Would the Knicks lie to Felton’s camp, and give the impression that Lin is a goner, only to match Houston’s offer? That seems a little shady to be NBA business. What also seems a little on the suspicious side, is hiding from Rockets officials who were sent to physically deliver Lin’s offer sheet, to buy themselves time to decide on whether to match or not. (League rules require the offer sheet to be physically delivered. The receiving team has three days upon receipt to reach a decision.)

Aside from the murkiness of the act, why would the Knicks need to buy themselves time if they’ve already decided not to match. They know the numbers. Do they really need the 3+ days to go over language? Presumably no.

As has been widely publicized, Houston’s offer to Lin is a “poison pill” deal. Under the Gilbert Arenas Rule, teams may only offer the league average salary ($5M) in contract year one, to players with less than two years of service time. They are due for a small raise in year two. Year three, though, bears no restrictions on salary. This is why the structure of Lin’s deal is:

Year 1: $5 million

Year 2: $5.25 million

Year 3: $14.8 million

The key for the Knicks here, and the reason Houston structured the offer this way, is that in the third year of the deal, the Knicks would have Amar’e Stoudemire ($23,410,988), Carmelo Anthony ($23,530,000), Tyson Chandler ($14,596,888), and Lin ($14,800,000) on their books for a combined $76 million. Teams start paying the luxury tax once they exceed $70 million. After considering all luxury tax penalties that will be in effect by 2014, Jeremy Lin’s $25 million contract would end up costing $43 million out of James Dolan’s pockets.

This is supposed to be the factor that steers the Knicks away.

The Knicks, who shelled out $60 million each to Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford, $30 million to Jared Jeffries and Jerome James, and paid a 30-year-old Steve Francis over $20 million for a season and a half, are supposed to be scared out of a deal because of paying a luxury tax.

But there’s always the basketball argument. That is, that the Knicks truly think that Felton at $4.5million/year is of better value than Lin’s new deal. This argument would only lead you to believe that Isiah Thomas is still calling the shots behind the disguise of Glen Grunwald.

Raymond Felton has been a mediocre-at-best player since his arrival in the NBA in 2005, aside from a 54 game stretch under Mike D’Antoni two seasons ago. What’s not funny, but infuriating about the whole thing, is that the argument from a group of decided NBA fans is that it would be silly to hand Lin reigns to the team after 35 games, when the Knicks would essentially be paying Felton off his 54 games as a good point guard in New York.

Felton showed he could be a good point guard during his prime years during his stint in New York. He showed scoring and defending ability, however was incredibly inept at executing a simple pick-and roll.

Lin showed that he could be a good point guard at 23 years of age, in essentially his rookie year. His pick-and-rolls were up to par with the best in the game, considering he had the offensive wizards, Jared Jeffries and Tyson Chandler, as his partners. His shooting caught everyone by surprise; he was among the league leaders in pull-up jump shot percentage. His defense was active, but not stellar. Take into account that he was carrying all of New York City on his shoulders, and Felton’s Knick tenure is more or less irrelevant.

Take away Lin’s half-season in New York and you have nothing. Take away Felton’s half-season in New York and you have six-and-a-half years of mediocrity. Neither would be offered more than a minimum salary if it wasn’t for their New York body of work. So to those of you who detest paying Lin off his body of work, you must consider the same for Felton.

The addition of Felton does not necessarily mean the demise of Linsanity, as several news sources are guilty of assuming. The Knicks have a need at shooting guard while Iman Shumpert recovers from a torn ACL. Instead of taking a chance on the so-so guards left on the free agent market, Woodson could run out lineups with Lin and Felton sharing time at point guard, with Jason Kidd at the other guard– a position he found himself in often last season in Dallas. Lin’s scoring ability leaves him as an option to play at the wing as well, and let Felton, Kidd, or even Pablo Prigioni run the point. The addition of Felton actually compliments the Knicks guard needs pretty well, as long as Lin is still in blue and orange laundry.

There are so many questions that are up in the air right now, but if when it’s all said and done, James Dolan passes on a 23-year-old point guard who carried a team of scrubs on a season-changing winning streak (in Stoudemire and Anthony’s absence), in favor of pinching his wallet shut for the first time in his excruciating incumbency as owner, then it may finally be time to put this monster to rest.

NBA Free Agency 2012: New York Knicks

We’re about 25 hours deep into the frenzy that is NBA Free Agency, and it’s already spewed out more reports and rumors than any fan can handle, so let’s get right into it.

The Knicks’ first priority is clearly Steve Nash. A farfetched pipe dream, it seemed merely a day or so ago, has turned into a very real and interesting option for New York. For months, the national and local media had everyone believing that all the Knicks could offer Nash would be their $3 million Mid-Level Exception, and their July 1st conversation would go something like this:

GM Glen Grunwald: “So Steve, we’d really love for you to join our squad and be the missing piece so we can compete for a championship.”

Nash: “Me too.”

GG: “Our offer to you is $3 million per year for three years.”

Nash: “OK, bye.”

But early Sunday, reports emerged from all walks of the internet that Phoenix has interest in Knicks guard Landry Fields, which opened the door for a sign-and-trade.

In such a deal, the Knicks could swap Fields (who’d sign for his $2.7 million Qualifying Offer the Knicks extended to him on Wednesday), Toney Douglas, cash considerations, and the non-guaranteed contracts that belong to Jerome Jordan and Dan Gadzuric. The $3 million in cash sent by New York would basically cover the cost of Douglas’ contract, so consider Phoenix getting him for free. The Suns could then waive Jordan and Gadzuric at no cost to them, opening two roster spots. I haven’t heard any speculation of this, nor have any confirmation that this is allowed under the new CBA, but including the draft rights to recent draft pick Kostas Papanikolaou could help entice Phoenix as well.

The combined salary of the package Grunwald would send out to the desert would be $6.82 million. As per new CBA rules, teams are allowed to receive back the same value they send out, plus 150% + $100,000. So $6.82 x 1.5 + 100,000 = 10.3, meaning the Knicks would be able to receive back a $10.3 million player.

This ~$10.3/year contract that the Knicks can potentially offer to the Suns would compete with the reported 3 year/ $36 million offer that the Toronto Raptors sent Nash’s way on day one of Free Agency. Consider the basketball situations of both teams, the fact that Nash has made his summer home in NYC for the past decade or so, and (if you wanna get ticky-tack) the greater income tax in Toronto than in New York, even the most Canadian bone in Nash’s body would be halfway through the Garden entrance.

It’s simply a matter of whether or not Suns GM Lance Blanks would pull the trigger.

This is essentially the only method of losing Nash that hauls a return for Phoenix, rather than just losing him outright. A package structured around Landry Fields may not be the sexiest group of names to show off to your fans, but one would suspect that getting some sort of return would be better in Blanks’ eyes than letting Nash walk for free. Also, it would be in good faith for the Suns to do their best to place Nash in the most realistic option possible to get him his hardware.

Fields isn’t exactly coming off a historic season, but keep in mind the better of his two seasons was played under an up-tempo system, similar to the one the Suns run. Fields made All-Rookie first team that season.

For the Knicks, adding Nash would be pretty horrible news for the rest of the Atlantic division. Pairing Nash with Amar’e Stoudemire to rekindle some of that old fire they started out West could be just what Amar’e needs at this point in his career. Don’t forget about the newly motivated All-Star small forward who just witnessed his career-long rival win his first championship, either. Nash coming to New York would also provide him with a second job: a mentor to developing star Jeremy Lin– not a bad guy for Lin to mold his game after.. Also, Nash starting at point guard would push Lin to the second team– a team possibly consisting of Lin, JR Smith, Steve Novak, and Jared Jeffries. Mobb Deep II.

Update: There have been reports in the last hour that have pointed out that the Knicks may not necessarily match a back-loaded offer made to Lin by teams such as Toronto, Dallas, or the Nets. I fully expect Lin back on the Garden floor to begin next year and these reports are nothing more than speculation at this point. Especially after the “Bird Rights” hearing that clogged our Twitter feeds for the past month, the Knicks are confident they will be able to resign Jeremy Lin, Steve Nash or no Steve Nash.

The Steve Nash situation will be the first domino to fall this offseason. We can expect a decision in the coming days.

It’s also important to note that if the Knicks obtain Nash via sign-and-trade, they’d still have their $3 million MLE in their pocket to spend on important role players.

The Knicks also checked up on an old friend, Ray Felton, on Sunday. If Nash spurs New York for Toronto, Phoenix, Dallas, or Brooklyn, Felton would be another option to back up Jeremy Lin at the 1. Felton failed to impress in a non-D’Antoni offense last season in Portland, but his return could spark the pick-and-roll combo that helped throne Amar’e Stoudemire king of New York.

Jason Kidd is also expected to receive a call from Grunwald and his team some time this week.

Outside of the point guard position, the Knicks need a legitimate shooting guard. JR Smith is no lock to return, and even with a new contract in New York, Smith is best designed for a limited-minutes role (see Round 1, 2012 NBA Playoffs). Ray Allen is currently coveted by a few teams, receiving formal offers from Memphis (full $5 million MLE) and Miami (full $3 million MLE). Boston’s interest in re-signing Allen is unclear this early in the game.

The Nuggets declined to extend Rudy Fernandez his Qualifying Offer, making him an unrestricted free agent. Fernandez would be a great asset off the bench, or possibly even starting until Iman Shumpert returns from injury. Fernandez would help the Knicks on the offensive end, where they especially struggled last season.

An area in which they excelled in 2011-12, however, was defense. The Knicks are on a list of teams Marcus Camby is considering, which would only help bolster their strong front line.

Phew. Am I missing anything? Probably. New reports have probably emerged in the time I took to write this up. Oh well, any major developments will be provided either in an update below or in a new post entirely.

Happy Free Agency! And may the Collective Bargaining Agreement be ever in your favor.

New York Rangers: Season in Review

With only a minute gone by in overtime and the puck loose in front, it was apparent the blue-shirts were in trouble. Seconds later, Adam Henrique swooped in behind Lundqvist to tap the loose puck into the open net to end the Rangers dream of being Stanley Cup champions. With Devils now on the brink of being swept by the Los Angeles Kings in the finals, Rangers fans can’t help but think, it should’ve been us. But the Rangers were not going to be handed a spot against the Kings, they had to earn it. The Rangers and head coach John Tortorella could not find enough gas to put in the tank to beat the Devils. However, when asked if playing so many games played a part in their elimination, Tortorella disagreed saying “It has nothing to do with being tired.” But the fact that the Rangers played more games in 3 rounds than any other team cannot be denied. After an entire 82 game season, the few extra games seemed to catch up with the Rangers. The Rangers just squeaked out of a hard fought series with the Senators in 7 games, and against the Capitals it was like a new Rangers team showed up. They lacked the offensive firepower that they showed at times throughout the season and the usually grit and energy was lacking in the series. The Capitals were beating the Rangers are their own game, blocking shots and receiving spectacular play in net by Braden Holtby. While the Rangers were able to grind their way out of the Capitals series, the Devils, while only a 6 seed, presented a much tougher test than the Capitals or the Senators. The Rangers couldn’t pass the test.

While they did manage to win games 1 and 3 easily with the incredible goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers were being outplayed in nearly every game and were not playing the style of hockey they played all season. Down by 3 goals early in game 5, the Rangers finally reminded everyone why they were the best team in the east all season. It was almost as if the power was turned on at the end of the first period. The fore checking, hard hitting Rangers showed up for the first time in the series, and powered their way back to a 3 – 3 tie. But there just wasn’t enough electricity to keep them powered, and the Rangers eventually allowed a goal and then an empty netter to seal the deal, leading to their downfall in the next game.

While the Rangers season ended in disappointment, the season was one to be remembered. With the powerhouse Flyers and Penguins in the Atlantic, the Rangers were expected to be a playoff team, but not to compete for the division title. But on the backs of Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers made it an incredible season for their loyal fans, and give them something to look forward to in the future.

The Good

Marian Gaborik in the Regular Season: If the NHL handed out a comeback player of the year award, Gaborik may have very well been the winner. After scoring a mere 22 goals in 62 games in 2010-11, Gaborik led the offense for the Rangers the whole season, scoring 41 goals, good for 3rd in the NHL.

Brad Richards: For once, the Rangers big money free agent acquisition paid off. While his season started off slow, Richards presence could not be denied. Richards was well known as being a mentor to defenseman Michael Del Zotto, helping him through the season. Richards came on strong at the end of the season once united with Gaborik and Hagelin, and was the Rangers best forward through the majority of the playoffs.

The Defense: Backstopped by the Vezina favorite Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers maintained one of the stingiest defenses in the league, giving up a miniscule 2.22 goals per game in a division that included the top 2 scoring teams in the league. Lundqvist was fantastic all year and was always there to save the Rangers during breakdowns. However, these breakdowns were few and far between. The Rangers top four defensemen were arguably the best in the league, led by the top unit of Ryan McDonough and Dan Girardi. But it was not only the defensemen that provided defense, the forwards were shot blocking machines as well. It’s hard to find a more dedicated player in the league than Ryan Callahan, who came up with huge blocked shots seemingly every game. The Rangers established an incredible defensive system that led them to 1st place in the Eastern Conference.

John Tortorella: Yes, he may give the worst interviews in the league, but the Rangers fully bought into Torts’ system. His defensive, shot blocking system was perfectly suited for the hard working Rangers, and it shows by his nomination for the Jack Adams Trophy for the best coach in the NHL.

The Flyers and Winter Classic: Not only did the Rangers beat the Flyers in the highly anticipated Winter Classic, they swept them in the season series.

So many things were good for the Rangers, so you may be asking yourself, well why aren’t they the ones playing for the Stanley Cup? Well, here is why:

The Bad

Where’d you go, Marian?: While Gaborik may have been the Rangers most potent offensive weapon during the regular season, he faded under the bright lights in the playoffs, leaving the Rangers with a less than potent offense. Scoring just 11 points in 20 games, Gaborik could not be relied on to score clutch goals or have 2 goal games to lead the Rangers like he did in the months before. He was even benched multiple times by Tortorella and at one point was delegated to the 4th line.

Brandon Dubinsky: Who led the Rangers in points in 2010 – 11? No, it wasn’t Marian Gaborik. No, it wasn’t Ryan Callahan. It was Brandon Dubinsky. After scoring 24 goals last season, Dubinsky was expected to be a close to 30 goal scorer on the second line. Instead, he scored 10 goals and spent most of his time on the 3rd or 4th line.

The Power Play: Every year it’s the same old story: the New York Rangers power play is downright awful. Ranking 23rd in the league, the Rangers needed something to help solve their 5 on 4 woes, and Brad Richards was not the answer.

The 5th and 6th D-man: McDonough and Girardi were number 1 and 2 in terms of blocked shots in the regular season, Del Zotto re-emerged as one of the best young defensemen in the game, and after Staal returned to form, he was as good as ever. However, that is only 4 defensemen. The Rangers 5th and 6th defensemen was a problem all season and especially in the playoffs. After Michael Sauer went down early in the season with a concussion, the last 2 spots were always a question, rotating between Anton Stralman, Tim Erixon, Stu Bickel, and Steve Eminger. While Stralman settled in late in the season and during the playoffs, Bickel’s play was less than par. Tortorella opted to bench him during most games, leaving the Rangers with 5 defensemen. In the end, this played a significant role in the Rangers downfall as the defense seemed tired against the Devils.

What Now?

After a first place finish in the conference, the Rangers still have to make some moves to make them a Stanley Cup contender yet again. A huge factor in this offseason will be the recent surgery that Marian Gaborik underwent on his right shoulder. Gaborik will be out up to 6th months, a span that will cut into the beginning of next season. Maybe the playoff sensation Chris Kreider can step into his role, but Gaborik leaves a big void. The Rangers would already be looking to acquire a top notch scorer, and this adds to the need for one.  The possibility of a trade for Rick Nash, who was rumored to be coming to New York at the trade deadline, is still a possibility. The Rangers find themselves with $21 million in cap room, but first must resign Michael Del Zotto (RFA), Brandon Prust (UFA), and depending on the status of Sauer come next season possibly Anton Stralman (RFA). Another answer for the Rangers may be in one of the players that eliminated them from the playoffs: Zach Parise. Parise will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and is not a guarantee to stay in New Jersey.

The last defenseman slot also must be addressed. The Rangers could go after a top notch defenseman via trade or free agency such as Ryan Suter or Shea Weber of the Predators. Landing one of these players would not only address the depth issues on defense, but would greatly improve the power play. However, landing one of them would likely take away the possibility of landing a top notch forward. The Rangers could instead dive into a plentiful pool of solid defensemen that are not as pricey to upgrade from Stu Bickel.

After a season full of great moments, The Rangers have most of their pieces in place. Goaltending? Check. 40 goal scorer? Check. Determined Captain? Check. Machine like top 4 defensemen? Check. However, the Rangers seem to just be missing one piece that will keep them going on all cylinders all year. If the Rangers can land either a high scoring winger or defensemen, look for them to be right back at the top of the standings again next year to contend yet again for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Johan Santana Throws First Mets No-Hitter: What it means to an aching fanbase

AP

When the Mets acquired two-time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana on Feb. 3, 2008, it was much more than a trade. It was much more than a six-year, $138 million contract. The franchise was rebounding from the most embarrassing collapse in history to date, and whether it was something on the field or not, it was evident that there was a missing piece to the puzzle. When the Mets acquired two-time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana on February 3rd, 2008, it was more than anything you could see on a baseball diamond. It brought to fans something they’d been longing for since their last title season 22 years prior: the belief that the Mets would be World Series champions once again.

That belief is a virtue that has often eluded the Mets and their fans throughout the franchise’s 50-year history. With the exception of their two banner-raising seasons, 43 and 26 years ago, respectively, the ballclub from Queens has been hamstrung by stretches of lengthy rebuilds, injuries, eyebrow-raising front office decisions, and flat-out bad luck. Although these all seem like traits that would steer anyone in their right mind away from Flushing, Mets fans have grown to embrace and inexplicably love their club’s struggles. It’s what makes the Mets, well, the Mets, and what bonds all Mets fans into one great, heartbreak-loving baseball family.

Of course, all the Mets’ lows are what make experiencing success unlike anything else in baseball. You could look back as far as the Miracle Mets of ’69, who came out of the cellar of the National League to win 100 games and shock the world on their way to a championship in the franchise’s seventh season. Maybe Mookie Wilson’s dribbler that you might have heard about once or twice. Mike Piazza’s home run on Sep. 21, 2001 to hand the Mets a victory in their first game since the 9/11 terrorist attacks swayed every American to the blue and orange side of baseball fandom for a night. Or, you could just think back to game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, when Endy Chavez lept and reached over Shea’s blue eight-foot wall to make the greatest catch in the history of the team, robbing Scott Rolen of a home run that would’ve essentially ended the team’s season. Shea Stadium rocked. Literally, the old place used to sway, horrifically but triumphantly, from side to side as fans would go bonkers for the blue and orange. In moments like these, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an atmosphere more amazing than where the Mets call home.

Through all the historic moments brought to us by the Metsies, there’s always been one slight imperfection. It was simply one of the sports oddities that nobody could logically explain. It’s not that the Mets have been devoid of stellar pitching — studs such as Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Jon Matlack, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Tom Glavine, and Pedro Martinez, just to name a few, have all called Queens home for at least a few seasons. They’d tried, and they’d came close, but all had ultimately failed. The Mets had never thrown a no-hitter.

Many men came close. Excruciatingly close. The franchise’s historic armory has hurled a whopping total of 35 one-hitters. Some notables in that batch of gems that history wouldn’t so much as blink an eye at are the three times that Tom Seaver carried a no-hitter into the 9th inning, only to allow base hits in the final frame of each. Seaver compiled five total one-hitters in his 12 seasons in New York. Long-time mediocre Met Steve Trachsel is second on the list with two one-hit complete game shutouts, tied with Cone, Matlack, and Gary Gentry. Most recently, it was John Maine who waited until the eighth inning with two retired to allow his first hit of the afternoon, in the penultimate game of Shea Stadium’s penultimate season.

The Mets won that second-to-last game of 2007. Unfortunately, it was their last victory of that season. Tom Glavine laid an egg in the season’s final game that would have clinched a postseason berth with a victory. Instead, the Mets fell behind Florida 7-0 in the first inning, and never made up that ground — resulting in the most epic collapse baseball had seen. (Glavine was admittedly “not devastated” about the performance — his last as a Met.)

This brings us back to Johan Santana.

Fast forward one calendar year to Sep. 27, 2008. It was Santana’s very own performance to conclude his inaugural Metropolitan campaign. Interim manager Jerry Manuel, who took over that June after Willie Randolph’s canning, called upon his ace on just three days rest to save the Mets’ season. A loss would eliminate the team from playoff contention with just one game remaining.

It wasn’t a no-hit bid (Santana allowed a single in the first inning), but he delivered in the biggest way possible. The Marlins failed to score a run in Santana’s complete game victory — one of the franchise’s most memorable pitching performances. Shea Stadium rocked. In a season that began with championship hopes, Santana put his team in a position to ride his momentum, and begin a playoff run in which he’d lead the charge. All they would need is one more victory the next day at Shea.

That victory never came.

Shea Stadium closed its doors for good that next day, lacking the third title many fans anticipated it would go out with that 2008 season. Hopes were again high for the 2009 season, but injuries got the best of the club that Sports Illustrated predicted would win it all. The 2009 Mets won 70 games, 23 behind the division-leading Phillies.

By the middle of 2010, Johan Santana was in the middle years of his contract, and had no playoff appearances to show for it. As if that wasn’t bad enough, on Sep. 11, 2010 it was announced that he would need surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his throwing shoulder, the same surgery that many pitchers have failed to fully recover from.

His return date was initially set for May 2011. That later got pushed back to June, then August, and, as any Mets fan could’ve predicted, Santana never threw a pitch in the 2011 season. The man that once embodied optimism and promise was beginning to look more and more like that $138 million price tag.

At the start of his fifth season in New York, many expected Santana to fail. Mets fans have watched their team sink from World Series contenders in 2008, to salary-slashing bottom-dwellers in 2011. There was room for optimism to start off the year. Many even doubted Santana would return for the start of the season.

He did return, however, and through the first two months of the season, looked just as sharp as he did as a 29-year-old New York neophyte. Now 33, and that fastball three or four miles-per-hour slower due to a combination of medical procedure and age, Johan Santana is still a warrior. The kind of warrior that loves adversity. The kind of warrior that knows his team doesn’t stand a chance without him.

Santana took the mound Friday night on the heels of a complete game shutout vs. San Diego — a start most reminiscent of the Johan Santana of old. It was a night that was initially noteworthy as Carlos Beltran’s return to New York. Johan soon stole the show.

By the start of the sixth inning, all 27,069 fans in attendance new exactly what the circumstances were. But with Santana at around 90 pitches, a dream scenario seemed unlikely. Carlos Beltran led off the sixth and smoked a line drive that appeared to be fair down the left field line. Third base umpire Adrian Johnson ruled it foul, and Beltran was eventually retired.

Sure enough, Santana turned his outing into a serious bid. With one out in the seventh inning, the ball found the biggest Mets fan on the field. Mets left fielder and Whitestone native Mike Baxter grew up a descendant of that great, heartbreak-embracing Mets fan ancestry. He understood better than anybody on the field what a no-hitter would mean to the team and its fans. Baxter sprinted to the blue outfield fence, threw his glove in the air and snagged a Yadier Molina liner that was sure to be extra bases. Baxter’s momentum slammed him into that left field wall, and he lay still for several moments before players and training staff surrounded him. He walked off the field holding his arm, but to a standing ovation. Chants of “BAX-TER, BAX-TER.” Mike Baxter literally ran through a wall for the Mets, and the rest was up to Johan.

With the help of some soft line drives that stayed in the air just long enough, along with some devastating change-ups, Santana found himself on the mound in the ninth inning without having allowed a hit. The heart of St. Louis’ lineup was due up. Miraculously, he induced to lineouts to the shallow outfield to begin the inning. The previous World Series’ hero David Freese would be the batter. Santana fell behind him in the count 3-0 before working back to a full count on his 133rd pitch (a new career high). Here’s Howie Rose to bring you closer than any other description ever could:

Citi Field could have been mistaken for Shea Stadium. It remained stationary, however the decibel level reached new Citi Field heights. Mets fans finally had a reason to go Shea Stadium-nuts in their new home, and they didn’t disappoint. The home field, at long last, felt like home.

There was a blown call that the Mets benefited from, but the baseball gods wouldn’t have it any other way. Try naming a single game in the sport’s history where the umpiring was perfect. Baseball is a game that, for better or worse, is largely reliant on the human element. Tape of every no-hitter could be picked apart, and there’d surely be questionable ball and strike calls that would extend at-bats to possibly change history. That’s just the way baseball has always been, and forever will be.

Santana’s feat is one of the instances in sports that can be celebrated and appreciated by everybody, everywhere. Everyone in the Mets family wholly  understood the importance of Santana’s feat, and celebrated accordingly — whether it be a 90-year-old fan since ’62, a 10-year-old just getting to know the game of baseball, an 18-year-old blogger trying to make sense of the whole thing, or a 27-year-old left fielder living every Queens kid’s dream.

It’d be a safe assumption to declare the Mets had somebody on their side Friday night. Take a look at the box score. The Mets had eight runs on eight hits. Johan had eight Ks. He threw 134 pitches (1 + 3 + 4 = 8). All in the year dedicated to The Kid (2012. 20 – 12 = 8).

Mets fans now have their long-coveted no-hitter, and it’s delightfully clear there’s something amazin’ brewing at Citi Field this year. Following Friday’s win, New York is at their high-water mark, six games over .500, and one game off the division-leading Nationals’ pace. One last note: The Miracle Mets were also 29-23 through their first 52 games of the 1969 season, before going on to shock the world by finishing at 100-62, and bringing a World Series crown to Flushing, Queens.

Bring back the puns! Must-Lin in Miami!

For the last month or so, Jeremy Lin has been nothing more than a fond (but distant) memory to the Knicks and their fans. Perhaps the most publicized period of ‘Bocker history, Linsanity provided us all with moments we’ll be sure not to forget any time soon.

Remember this?

Then there was this one.

What about when he nearly dropped 40 against LA?

In a matter of weeks, Jeremy Lin went from NBA bench-warmer to international icon. But the Linsanity subsided just about as quickly as it had taken America by storm. On April 2nd, he underwent surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus, and was slated to be sidelined for six weeks. Well, it’s been five, and the man who saved the Knicks season once already, might just have to do it again.

Speculation of a Lin return had been clogging everyone’s Twitter feeds for much of the Knicks first round series against Miami. Despite participating in practices and 3-on-3 scrimmages in between games, Lin’s sore knee was just too painful to play through. This, of course, was before starter-by-default Baron Davis went down in Game 4 with a torn patella tendon and complete tears of the ACL and MCL (yes, it looked just as bad as it sounds).

The Knicks face a few alternatives. Mike Bibby, who decided to turn back the clock this postseason, has hit several big shots for the team while contributing smart decisions from the point guard spot. Coach Mike Woodson has said he’ll be the new starter for Game 5.

After that, who knows?

Photo credit: Getty Images
Lin has been practicing and participating in 3-on-3 scrimmages with the team ever since the playoffs began. Although ahead of schedule, Lin is still days or weeks from being at full strength. The Knicks now need him, despite his less-than-ideal health, to stand a chance against the Heat.

Woodson has mentioned a JR Smith/Carmelo Anthony combination to run the point for the second team. Former coach Mike D’Antoni experimented with Anthony running a point forward-type position early in the season, and watched it fail miserably. What we’ve learned this season, if nothing else, is that Carmelo Anthony is not your ideal playmaker. He’s not going to be your point guard, he’s not going to run pick-and-rolls. Carmelo will go against his defender and take him 1-on-1. And when he’s on, there’s close to nothing that will stop him.

And you can go ahead and add JR Smith to the list of “people I’d rather suffer from food poisoning than watch play point guard.”

Smith has a number of abilities on the basketball court, sure. Playing intelligent basketball, however, definitely is not his strong suit. What the Knicks need out of their point guard is someone who can logically distribute the ball between Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Perhaps Smith would settle that issue– by calling his own number twenty-something times. JR at PG is not the answer for the Knicks if they want to claw back into this series (I’m purposely failing to mention his consistent, mindless fouling along the perimeter/late in the shot clock, for the sake of my own sanity).

After Iman Shumpert’s tragic, season-ending knee injury, and with Toney Douglas being considered an afterthought by Mike Woodson these days, this leaves but one option for New York.

When this Knicks team looked lost with nothing to fight for in mid-February, Jeremy Lin was the team’s last resort before, well, thankfully we never found out. Right now the Knicks are out of options. They’re looking for one last winning streak. Lin succeeded at doing the impossible earlier this year, when he seized his opportunity and morphed from the NBA equivalent of an ant, into the most beloved sports figure in all of New York.

Now, the impossible will be asked of him once more: to beat the powerhouse Heat on their home floor, get the Garden faithful to rally behind them for a Game 6 victory, and lay it all on the line in a seventh game, back in South Beach. Is this a lot to ask out of the 23-year-old neophyte who, at best, would be playing with three-quarters in the tank? Seeing that this particular neophyte was plucked fresh out of the D-League, and was asked to single-handedly become New York City’s hero, and did it, I’ll take my chances with number 17.