For the Knicks, playing with Jeremy Lin also means playing with his future
There are compelling reasons for the New York Knicks, down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series to the Heat, to try to bring injured point guard Jeremy Lin back for Game 5 Wednesday night in Miami.
There are also some extremely significant reasons that they shouldn't even think about it, even if his knee seems healthy enough.
The argument in favor of playing Lin is predicated on the belief that the Knicks still have a chance, if they put the right team on the court.
Certainly, they have no one else to run the offense. Baron Davis, with a dislocated kneecap, is almost certainly finished for the season.
One of the remaining point guards on the roster is Mike Bibby, who is a stand-alone shooter at this point (and not a good one), without the basic ability to find players, to penetrate or create movement or to guard anyone. And he's the best of them. The other point-guard option is Toney Douglas, a turnover machine.
The Heat have been the superior team, but not by all that much in Games 2, 3 and, obviously, 4. Miami's defense against Lin when they beat the Knicks in the regular season was built on overpursuit, and it succeeded. But at the time, Anthony and Stoudemire had just come back, and neither one was playing nearly as well as they both did in Game 4. That strategy also left Steve Novak open, and Novak hurt Miami with four three-pointers in 19 minutes, as many as he's made in 83 minutes played over the four playoff games.
Getting Lin back would at least test Miami defensively, in addition to providing a lift to the Knicks.
Again, for the purposes of this exercise, let's suppose it's possible for the Knicks to win the next three games and take the series from Miami. The remaining contenders show that the conference is actually fairly wide open. Chicago, without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, is down 3-1 to Philadelphia, a highly flawed team. New York largely handled Indiana all season, along with Atlanta, and beat the Celtics two times. Beating Miami, in theory, would be the hardest part about winning all the way through to the finals.
Related: If they give up now against Miami, they might as well kick coach Mike Woodson to the curb.
But here's why, despite all that, it would not be a good idea to bring Lin back.
The Knicks would be risking the long-term health of a player who could be a vital part of the franchise for years to come, in the service of what will in all likelihood be a losing cause: They face incredibly long odds to even bring this series back to Game 6 in New York, let alone to win it.
The Heat are 30-5 at home this season. They are 5-1 against the Knicks. Should they falter on Wednesday night in Miami, the Heat would still lead the series, with a chance to win it Friday night in New York. And if the Knicks manage to tie the series at 3-3, the Heat get another chance Sunday in Miami. No N.B.A. team has ever come back from 3-0 down to win a best-of-seven series. And only one managed to force a seventh game after trailing, 3-0.
Even if Lin claims to be healthy, and even if the Knicks' staff decides that he's sufficiently recovered from his recent surgery to jump back into action, there's no getting around the fact that it would dangerous. They'd be taking a chance of doing permanent damage to a knee that already took a ton of pounding over this shortened season, thanks to his 40-minute outings, over and over. And they'd almost certainly be compromising Lin's timeline for total recovery. (Related: See the thoughtful comments on this recent column I wrote on the Lin-comeback fantasy.)
It's easy to forget this, but training camp is only five months away. The N.B.A. Summer League, a place for Lin to shake off the rust and get ready to play regularly with Anthony and Stoudemire next season, is in just two months. The Knicks have yet to find out what they're capable if Lin is healthy and in sync with their two elite scorers. They've never had that—not once, not even during that brief Linsanity streak, when they looked for a time like they could beat anyone.
The Knicks might be spared a decision about Wednesday night if Lin himself decides that he's not ready, or the team doctors conclude that he cannot go.
But if Lin gets the green light, and he's willing, the Knicks need to choose intelligently. There are bigger things at stake than this playoff series.