For Knicks in Game 5, Odds Are Long and Bench Is Short

If only they could recapture the feeling, perhaps the Knicks could summon a playoff miracle, beat the Miami Heat three more times and became the first N.B.A. team to come back from a 3-0 deficit.

If only they could unleash another dose of Linsanity when the series resumes Wednesday in Miami.

If only?

“I’m not counting on to play,” Coach Mike Woodson said Monday.

So there goes that premise.

Fantasies of Lin’s returning were stoked Sunday afternoon, when the Knicks avoided a sweep with over the Heat. Lin, who is recovering from knee surgery, had hinted he would play in the series if the Knicks survived long enough.

Having lost two guards to knee injuries — and — the Knicks have never been more desperate for Lin’s return and his talent for mystical moments.

But Lin has not received medical clearance from team doctors. He has yet to scrimmage five on five. He has played three on three a few times, but he has yet to take contact on consecutive days.

Most significant, Lin has not played since March 24 , a stretch of 44 days, which makes the casting of him as a savior seem slightly ludicrous.

“He’s not in great shape,” Woodson said during a conference call with reporters. “You know as well as I know that playoff basketball, you’ve got to be at an all-time high, and he hasn’t played in a while.”

The comeback would be that much tougher against the Heat, perhaps the N.B.A.’s fiercest defensive team. Miami held Lin to 1-for-11 shooting, with eight turnovers, on Feb. 23, his worst game as a starter.

“Jeremy’s a big piece of our team,” Woodson said. “But if the docs say, ‘Mike, we’re taking a chance, he shouldn’t be out there playing,’ I can’t be that selfish and say, ‘Son, put a uniform on and play.’ ”

So the Knicks will open Game 5 with Mike Bibby — who has never inspired clever puns or sparked a global frenzy and who turns 34 on Sunday — as their point guard. J. R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony will take on increased ball-handling duties whenever Bibby rests.

The injury to Davis’s right knee was worse than originally thought. Tests taken Monday revealed complete tears in the medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments, as well as a partial tear of the patella tendon. He will have surgery this week. He is expected to be out for 12 months.

Davis, a 13-year veteran, will be a free agent this summer. If he decides to resume his career next year, when he will be 34, he will probably do it elsewhere.

Woodson said he spoke briefly with Davis after Sunday’s game, when the Knicks hoped he had only a dislocated kneecap.

“He was in great spirits,” Woodson said. “Baron’s a trouper, man. The one thing he did say: ‘Man, hey, I tried to give you all I could.’ And I have a great deal of respect for players that work for me and work for the organization and try to do the best they can to help us win ballgames.”

Before Lin emerged in February, the Knicks had viewed Davis as their best option at point guard. But he played only 29 games after a long recovery from a herniated disk and never came close to his former All-Star form.

The Knicks are down to four healthy guards, two of whom — Bibby and Toney Douglas — were out of the rotation for much of the season. Woodson will probably play Anthony, Smith and Landry Fields for longer stretches to compensate for the lack of depth. He sounded reluctant to use Douglas.

There was no such hesitation about Bibby, who has played in 104 postseason games, including 33 for Woodson, mostly in Atlanta. Bibby once guided the Sacramento Kings to the Western Conference finals, .

“He’s not as fast and crafty as he used to be, but he’s still capable in short minutes of running a basketball team,” Woodson said, adding, “He’s still capable of hitting the big shots.”

Bibby showed that knack again Sunday, making a 3-pointer with 1 minute 23 seconds left that gave the Knicks an 84-81 lead.

The Knicks were emboldened by Sunday’s victory, but their task remains daunting. Of the previous 101 teams to fall behind, 3-0, 91 lost in the fourth or fifth game. Only three forced a Game 7. The Knicks are 0-4 in Miami this season and lost the first two games there by a combined 43 points.

Even Lin, who came out of nowhere and captivated the world in February, might not have enough magic to defy those odds.

Without Lin, Knicks Back at Point of Disarray

When the Jeremy Lin joyride finally crashed, it was not because of opposing defenses, scouting reports, ’s ball domination or Mike Woodson’s playbook. As it turned out, a bit of frayed knee cartilage was the culprit.

Arthroscopic knee surgery will probably end Lin’s breakout season, leaving the pretty much where they were two months ago: a jumbled, banged-up mess.

The timing could not be worse, with 13 games left to play, a string of tough matchups ahead and the Knicks (27-26) clinging loosely to a playoff bid.

The Knicks are now missing their best playmaker (Lin) and their second- and third-leading scorers (Amar’e Stoudemire and Lin). Their offense is in the hands of Baron Davis, who turns 33 in two weeks and has a balky back and lifeless legs.

Behind Davis is the same group of backups whose failures nearly sunk the Knicks before Lin seized the point-guard job and saved the season.

The Knicks will be ever more dependent on Anthony, who has repeatedly shown that he is best as a scorer and not an orchestrator. Without Lin and Stoudemire, the offense shifts toward Anthony, Davis and J. R. Smith, three veterans with well-established reputations as high-usage, low-efficiency scorers.

The Knicks still have the ability to score in abundance, a defensive stalwart in Tyson Chandler and ample leadership in Chandler and Stoudemire. What they will be missing, in these critical final four weeks, is that single, unifying force who elevates teammates and inspires the partisan crowds. Lin was that force, a selfless playmaker who was beloved in the locker room and in living rooms.

The Knicks were 8-15 before Lin exploded in that memorable Feb. 4 victory over the Nets. They went 16-10 in his 26 games as the primary point guard, including a 9-2 stretch that was as enjoyable as anything the Knicks have done in years.

Lin’s effect on the offense was noteworthy. Before his emergence, the Knicks averaged 18.9 assists per game, with 55.3 percent of their field goals produced by a pass. During Lin’s run, the Knicks averaged 21 assists a game, with assists on 57.2 percent of their shots. In the four games since Lin went down, those figures have plummeted, to 16.8 assists a game, and an assist rate of 51.5.

Indeed, the Knicks’ identity seems to be in the midst of another seismic shift — from a team that thrived on ball movement and a spread-the-wealth philosophy to a team based on defense first, and a grind-it-out offense in which a handful of players dominate the ball.

In recent games, the Knicks’ offense was often reduced to Anthony dribbling and shooting, Smith dribbling and shooting or Davis dribbling and shooting.

With Lin gone, whatever remained of Mike D’Antoni’s spread-the-floor offense may go with him. This doesn’t mean the Knicks will necessarily be worse off, just drastically different and, to a purist’s eyes, much less aesthetically pleasing.

“It’s definitely going to change,” Chandler said of the Knicks’ personality. “Jeremy brought a tempo to us.” He added, “We’re going to have to play more of a grind style; we got to let our defense lead us.”

Since Lin went down, the Knicks have registered ugly victories over Milwaukee and Cleveland and an ugly loss to Atlanta. (Their rollicking rout of Orlando was hard to quantify because of the Magic’s apparent lack of interest and subsequent reports that their players were partying until 3 a.m. the night before the game.)

It went practically unnoticed, but Lin was also the Knicks’ second most productive free-throw shooter, averaging 6.3 foul shots a game over his 26-game run. Only Anthony (6.7) averages more. Leaguewide, only 10 players average more foul shots per game than Lin did in his seven weeks as the Knicks’ starter.

For all of the persistent doubts about Lin — and they are understandable, given his short résumé — his final statistics are more than respectable.

Lin averaged 18.5 points in 26 games as an everyday player, which would rank seventh among point guards; and 7.6 assists, which would rank 10th. His turnover rate was high (4.5 per game), but it was steadily declining in recent weeks.

At 23, Lin is young, eager and continually improving, with a . The Knicks would be foolish not to re-sign him as a restricted free agent this summer, even if it means using their entire midlevel exception.

Oddly, it is Davis who has more to prove. He is only months removed from a herniated disk that nearly ended his career. He is averaging a modest 8.5 points and 5.5 assists — and 4 turnovers per game — as the starting point guard.

Davis can no longer break down a defense or turn the corner on the pick-and-roll, which makes it hard to create scoring chances for teammates.

Without a steady point guard, the Knicks need Anthony that much more.

Linsanity is sidelined. D’Antoni is gone. For the next four weeks, this is indisputably Anthony’s team. The Knicks can only hope he justifies their faith.

Knicks Look for Way to Combine Lin and Davis

The most intriguing image, however, was the sight of and Baron Davis playing together in the backcourt. In games, Davis, a former All-Star who is working his way back to full fitness after a herniated disk, backs up Lin at point guard. On Wednesday night, , Lin played 33 minutes and Davis 15.

For the moment, at least, it is a ratio that keeps Lin from being overworked and allows Davis enough minutes to scrape off the rust after .

But on a Knicks team that is suddenly much deeper than it was, with a revitalized second unit challenging the starters in practice and in games, putting Lin and Davis together gives Coach one more option as he tries to figure out ways to get a lot of players sufficient playing time.

On Friday, when they were playing as a tandem, Davis ran the offense and Lin worked hard off the ball. Afterward, Davis seemed to relish the idea of their combination, telling reporters that Lin would be “extremely effective” in that setup.

Explaining it in the context of the Knicks’ offense, Davis said: “Whoever has the ball is the guy making plays. Everybody else is spacing, waiting for opportunities to make the secondary play. So you put Jeremy on the ball, he’s going to make plays. You swing the ball to him with somebody running at him, he’s even more dangerous, you know what I mean? Because the defense has already been broken down.”

Lin, drenched in sweat, called Davis a “great mentor,” and noted that he played off the ball often at Harvard.

“I’m comfortable doing it,” Lin said. “I don’t have to have all the ball-handling responsibilities.”

D’Antoni said: “They can play together. Whether you want that or not, we’ll see. Because that means either J. R., Shumpert, Novak, Melo; somebody is not playing.”

Divvying up the point-guard minutes has the potential to be a sensitive issue for the Knicks because of Davis’s status as a star player when healthy. If he feels capable of playing more minutes in the weeks ahead, he could begin to feel frustrated if he is not. Putting him together with Lin is one way around that issue.

Actually, the Knicks are looking at everything these days, including advanced metrics. At Thursday’s practice, Lin mentioned that the Knicks players were being shown statistical breakdowns that revealed points scored per 100 possessions, a newer, and increasingly popular way to measure success on offense. Lin said he was not aware of advanced statistics at Harvard, and credited the Knicks’ coaching staff with providing a tutorial.

“We just showed the team where they stand leaguewide,” D’Antoni said when asked about the metrics. “That our defense is getting better and our offense was really bad.”

With most teams sending representatives to the sixth annual in Boston this weekend, the Knicks say they do not want to be left behind. They, too, are aware of how the game is changing.

“Statistics, most teams do it,” D’Antoni said. “We’re trying to evolve and use it even more as a tool. Again, nothing is definitive in the sense of, ‘O.K., stats say this, this is what we’re doing.’ ”

“Numbers, they can lie to you, too,” he added. “So you’ve got be careful about only numbers. You have to have a sense of how the team’s playing, mentally how they feel.”

Nevertheless, statistics, both traditional and advanced, will come into play as D’Antoni and his staff try to figure out how to divide 48 minutes by 9 or 10 or 11 players.

“I think you use all the tools you have,” he said. Including pairing Davis and Lin.