Thursday, February 23, 2012

02/23 (Lin vs. LeBron) Quickie

For all the Linsanity of the past three weeks (less than three weeks, really), nothing -- not the debut, not the nationally televised Lakers win, not the game-winner over the Raptors, not the nationally televised Mavs win -- compares to what is coming tonight:

Jeremy Lin and the Knicks in South Beach to play LeBron, D-Wade and the Heat, on TNT in primetime.

It's not just that it collides this year's biggest story with last year's biggest story. It's that the game is on national TV -- accessible to everyone -- and it comes in the finale before the league takes a break for All-Star Weekend.

It's not even close: This is the biggest game yet of the NBA season (displacing the previous "Biggest Game Yet," Lin vs. Lakers) and arguably the most must-see NBA regular-season game since Michael Jordan returned the first time, against the Knicks in the Garden.

Does the result matter? No. To the extent that the Knicks are on the East playoff periphery, they could use the win, but it's hardly like there was an expectation -- before or after the start of the Lin Era -- they would win in Miami tonight. The Heat are locked into a Top 2 seed in the East.

No, this is entirely about the biggest storyline in sports going up against the storyline we all used to care about quite a bit -- but, compared to Linsanity, not so much anymore.

One other thing: Everyone loves Lin and the Lin story. I'm still trying to find a backlash (beyond the boring and meta "backlash to the media coverage"). Meanwhile, the Heat are still defined by their place as the team so many NBA fans love to hate.

In the complementary way most fans are thrilled to see Lin keep winning, they maintain last year's position that after wanting to see their own team win, they are rooting for the Heat to fail. If that puts tonight's game in apocalyptic "Good vs. Evil" proportions, just wait until they meet in the playoffs.

As for a prediction: Big game for Lin, big win for the Heat -- and the biggest TV ratings for an NBA regular-season game in the history of cable TV.

-- D.S.

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