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The Early Lead
Posted at 10:41 AM ET, 02/24/2012

LeBron James, Heat remind Knicks, Jeremy Lin who the top dogs in the NBA’s Eastern Conference are

The players and countless media members on hand at American Airlines Arena in Miami tried in vain to bill Thursday night’s New York Knicks-Miami Heat matchup as “just a regular season game.”

And while Miami’s 102-88 win was only worth a single game in the Eastern Conference standings, for the spectators who shelled out more than $600 per ticket and the millions watching around the globe, it certainly felt like much more than that.

Despite coming into last night as the top team in the Eastern Conference, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and company had been overshadowed for the last three weeks by the Jeremy Lin show on Broadway. But after a dominant performance on their home floor, the defending conference champions reminded everyone that they remain the favorite to get back to the NBA Finals this spring — and continued to develop their role as league villain in the process.

“They were all geeked up for him, “ Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They took the challenge and did a great job. It’s hard to be Peter Pan every day.”

The Heat’s Big Three showed New Yorks new core of Lin, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire still have some gelling to do as James, Wade and Bosh combined for 67 points on 28-of-55 shooting.

And it was James (20 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals, 2 blocks) who set the tone early on offense, but it was Miami’s relentless effort on the defensive end that frustrated Lin all night, limiting the budding star to just eight points — his lowest total since entering the starting lineup — and forcing 19 turnovers (including eight from Lin).

“He’s a good player, a really good player,” James said of Lin. “And they’re going to do some great things. But for us, we come in and take care of business.”

“They did a great job of making me uncomfortable,” Lin said. “I can’t remember another game where it was just hard to take dribbles.”

But while Thursday night’s result may serve as a reality check for the Knicks and their fans, one loss won’t end the Linsanity phenomenon, as Jimmy Fallon noted.

(Nevermind the fact that Fallon blatantly disregarded the carefully crafted list of “Danger Zones” sent out by the Asian American Journalists Association.)

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By  |  10:41 AM ET, 02/24/2012

 
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