The Knicks will go into tonight's game against the Wizards without their two headliners, Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, but they still go into the game with a sense of confidence because of a new star on the rise: Madison Square Garden favorite Jeremy Lin.
If you think calling Lin a star right now is a reach, consider the status he has gained at The Garden in a matter of a weekend.
He went from being routinely stopped by security as he entered the building -- they then thought he was one of the trainers -- to being surrounded by a horde of media usually reserved for Amar'e and Melo. And he's drawing the attention of some famous viewers from around the league.
"The excitement he has caused in The Garden," Magic Johnson told AP reporter Brian Mahoney, "man, I hadn't seen that in a long time."
Lin's career-best 28 points and 8 assists in Monday's electrifying win over the Jazz, which followed up a dynamic 25-point, 7-assist effort in a win over the Nets on Saturday, proved he wasn't a one-hit wonder. But Lin isn't allowing himself to exhale just yet and tell himself he's made it.
"It could be a two-time wonder," he said after practice on Tuesday. "That's what I'm worried about. As athletes, every time we get complacent, that's when trouble comes."
After The Garden rocked with Lin-sanity over the last two games, the Jeremy Lin Show hits the road, where the energy from the crowd won't be there to motivate him. But the opponent will be a familiar one in John Wall, whom Lin faced in a memorable NBA Summer League game in 2010, which first put the Harvard grad on the map among NBA fans.
While playing for the Dallas Mavericks team, Lin went head-to-head with Wall, who was that year's first overall pick, and had the crowd at Cox Pavillion roaring with his dribble drives... and a memorable 270-degree -- you read this correctly -- jumper.
So this rematch ought to be interesting, as if Lin hasn't sparked enough curiosity already.
Wall's speed should be too much for Lin, but we've already learned not to underestimate him. Deron Williams should have been way too much for the 24-year-old, but he more than held his own last Saturday night.
And that's something that the coaching staff didn't know about Lin: He's strong, tough and extremely competitive on defense, especially in getting around screens.
D'Antoni will be the first to admit he hesitated to play Lin, but he did reveal that the coaching staff did have an idea about his skill set. But when you're in the throes of nine losses in 10 games, it's tough to roll the dice with a kid from the D-League.
"I was afraid to do anything," D'Antoni said. "We were already in a crisis and I can't be [grasping] at straws. The other players would be looking at me like, 'Are you crazy?'"
The players had seen glimpses of what Lin could do in practice, but the NBA is loaded with scrimmage heroes who disappear when the bright lights come on in live action. When he hit The Garden court, the biggest stage in the game, Lin didn't disappear. If anything, we all saw a side of him none of us -- not even himself -- knew existed.
"I'm not going to sit here and say I knew I was going to do this," Lin said after Monday's game. "I don't think anyone, including myself, saw this coming."
The trick is to keep it going and endure the comedown that seems inevitable after such a stratospheric start. What we should expect is for Randy Wittman to have Wall go right at Lin -- remember, Wall flies up the court on makes and misses -- and have the Wizards well-prepared to blitz Lin in the pick-and-roll.
After a few days of cautiously quelling the optimisim and expectations, D'Antoni sounded more convinced that Lin has it in him to continue to run this offense.
"He's going to go through some pains and growing pains, and there will be some things we need to iron out," D'Antoni said. "There will be some tough nights and we'll get through it. But he has shown an ability to play in the NBA, that's for sure."
ANOTHER TEST FOR KNICKS 'JV' TEAM
It was revealed on Tuesday that Melo will miss a week or two with a groin strain, which he suffered in the first quarter against the Jazz. The injury-riddled star seemed to be just starting to recover from ankle and wrist sprains before this latest setback, which could knock him out of the All-Star Game on Feb. 26.
So it will take yet another gritty effort by the Knicks "JV" squad. Lin says without the two stars in the lineup, the Knicks will have to "play gutsy and ugly at times to get the win."
And that right now seems appealing to D'Antoni, who beamed with pride after Monday's win because of how hard the team played at both ends of the court. The Knicks were a scrappy, resourceful team that sort of resembled the one we saw before the Melo trade. It's one that D'Antoni believes can continue the momentum of the back-to-back wins and perhaps get the team on a roll as they try to climb back to the .500 mark.
"With the attitude and the effort and playing as well as we did last night," D'Antoni said, "we'll come up with some wins."
The plan is to continue with the same rotation that D'Antoni used against the Jazz, with Iman Shumpert coming off the bench and sharpshooter Steve Novak and rookie Jerome Jordan getting time behind the starting big men Jared Jeffries and Tyson Chandler. Bill Walker will start in Melo's spot and Shumpert will see time at the small forward position, as well.
In other words: Small ball, with an emphasis on playing up-tempo with ball movement.
And if Lin can keep up the pace, maintain a certain flow and continue to slice and dice defenses in the pick-and-roll, perhaps Anthony can use the week or two off the court to see what this offense is really supposed to look like.
But before we get too ahead of ourselves, don't think for a minute that D'Antoni is happy to hear Melo and his offensive talents aren't available to him.
"That won't make me sleep better tonight," he said.
AMAR'E WILL TAKE 'A FEW DAYS'
Stoudemire, who stands to benefit the most from Lin's pick-and-roll abilities, is right now focused on his family and getting through an extremely emotional time following the passing of his older brother, Hazell.
On Tuesday, Stoudemire released a statement through the team:
"I am humbled by all of the thoughts and prayers I have received. Thank you for all of the support. I am going to take a few days to be with my family and grieve the loss of my big brother, Hazell Stoudemire. Although it is not clear to me now, I hope to make some good come from our tragedy."
• The Knicks are still hoping to sign free agent shooting guard J.R. Smith with their "room exception" but the Minnesota Timberwolves could provide serious competition, as they also have the room exception (a pro-rated $2.5 million salary slot) and could offer Smith more minutes and scoring opportunities. Smith, a New Jersey native, has indicated on Twitter that he has strong interest in playing for the Knicks.
• Coincidentally, Lin seemed the most likely to be waived to make room on the roster for Smith. Lin is in the second season of a two-year deal which is a non-guaranteed salary of $762,195 [his contract will become fully-guaranteed this week]. The only other players on the roster with non-guaranteed deals are Novak ($854,389) and Jordan ($473,604), so it will be interesting to see who would be the player cut to make room for Smith. Another option could be to trade a player who is out of the rotation for a second-round pick.
• Rookie Josh Harrellson is about halfway through his recovery from a broken wrist. The training staff has him putting in a lot of conditioning work so he is ready to play once doctors clear him for contact. He recently told D'Antoni that he lost six pounds. Harrellson is scheduled to be cleared after the All-Star Break (Feb. 27).
• What an odd coincidence that right now that several of the key players involved in the Melo trade last season are out with an injury: Melo (groin strain), Danilo Gallinari (foot fracture), Chauncey Billups (Achilles) and Timofey Mozgov (sprained ankle). Quick, someone put Wilson Chandler in some bubble wrap.