A Heat-Knicks game always qualifies as a big one in South Florida, but the arrival of New York's sudden sensation, Jeremy Lin, has turned up the rivalry to 11. The Heat are the hottest team in the NBA, winning their past seven games all by double-digits, but there is no story in the NBA bigger than the second-year point guard out of Harvard who has energized the Knicks.
How big is this game? Not one, but two presidents could be at the AmericanAirlines Arena when the two teams tip off at 7p.m. Bill Clinton, who sat courtside with Heat owner Micky Arison for Sunday's game against Orlando, is still in town, while Barack Obama will be speaking in Coral Gables today.
Still, the Heat are trying to keep things in perspective ahead of their final game before the All-Star break. "It's not about Jeremy Lin versus LeBron James," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said Wednesday. "It's the Miami Heat versus the New York Knicks."
Not that they aren't taking the Knicks seriously. "It's the game right before All-Star," James said. "But it won't be like `that' game before All-Star, like people are accustomed to. Everybody always says, you know, the game before All-Star, people are ready to get to All-Star weekend."
The contest with the Knicks "could be one of the most watched games we've had in a long time, especially with what Jeremy Lin is doing." In his past ten games since joining the starting lineup, Lin is averaging 23.8 points and 9.4 assists on 50 percent shooting.
In their first meeting against New York, the Heat won 99-89, with James scoring 31 points along with 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Wade added 28 points.
That was a much different Knicks team, however. All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony sat on the Knicks' bench nursing an injury, while Lin sat on the bench behind PGs Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby.
While the Heat sport the NBA's best record (26-7), the Knicks are a middling 16-17. They've been hot since Lin was inserted into the starting lineup earlier this month, winning 8 of their last 10 games.
Needless to say, both teams will be gunning hard for a win. "We love playing against them and they love playing against us," Wade said. "I don't have to pump it up. It's going to be pumped up enough."
The two members of the Heat tasked with guarding Lin, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, feel the same way, declining to say anything that could be construed as a shot against Lin. " It's not really personal," Chalmers said. "It's team. Team on team. Heat versus Knicks."
Said Cole, "Definitely looking forward to it. I've heard about what he's done. I've watched the highlights. I've seen some of the games. He's produced. You've got to give the guy credit. He's been playing very well."
Tipoff is at 7p.m. on TNT.