We had this debate going on Twitter and on the Knicks Fix Facebook page, regarding the Knicks and Cavaliers, where I offered the scenario that it would be interesting in the upcoming Feb. 6 game in Cleveland if LeBron James didn't play (say he gets the flu). Would that be a way to judge which team might have the better supporting cast?
But the better question is about the Cavs in general. Without LeBron, are they a playoff team? Ron Artest had just played them the night before and spent most of the night trying to guard LBJ, who had 37 points.
And if you ask him, the answer is no.
"Actually, I thought about that yesterday," he said. "If you take LeBron off that team, no. They're not. No."
He then tried to suggest that if you took Kobe Bryant off the Lakers, they wouldn't be a playoff team, either. But it didn't take much to get him to reconsider. The Lakers have Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and, yes, Artest. That's plenty of talent to finish in the top eight.
In the East, that might even be enough to earn home court in the first round.
"I guess that's why they got me," Artest said of the Lakers, "to take him out of the game. Yesterday, it didn't work."
But he suspects they'll see each other again this year, probably in June.
Artest has no filter, which is what makes him such an enjoyable interview subject. In November in L.A., he suggested to a couple of us New York writersthat some NBA players are afraid of the New York media and the pressure and demand that comes with playing in New York. But LeBron, he said, could definitely handle it.
And Artest, who is still an unapologetically devoted Knicks fan, laughed when asked if he spoke at all to LeBron about New York on Thursday night.
"No disrespect to Cleveland," he said with a grin, "but we need some star power here in New York. We need some legit star power, so I can come down and beat up on them. We need a star power player to come in and make it a great team . . . It'll be great to see one day a New York-L.A. championship."
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* - David Lee's effort against Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol (31 points, 17 rebounds) on national television should have clinched him a spot among the Eastern Conference all-star reserves. Right now you can argue Al Horford gets a nod first at center because the Hawks are playing at a high level and Horford is a key piece of that team at both ends of the floor. But you can't name a player in the East on a sub.-500 team playing better than Lee.
* - Chris Duhon played tough defense and had eight assists to one turnover in 30:57, but his poor offensive production (1-for-9 FG, 0-for-7 3PT) continues to be a major concern for the Knicks and you have to believe the primary goal for Donnie Walsh before the Feb. 18 trade deadline will be to try to land a point guard. It won't be easy because starting point guards aren't easy to find. One idea could be to use the team's $1.6M trade exception to land Jamaal Tinsley from the Memphis Grizzlies, but while Tinsley is a terrific passer, he's hardly the finisher the Knicks need at that position (as proven by Duhon's anemic scoring numbers).
With Nate Robinson's hamstring injury tonight, you could see rookie Toney Douglas thrust into action. Douglas proved early in the season that he could score, but he struggled to set up plays and command the offense. Still, with the system basically running through Lee these days, there doesn't need to be as much of a demand on Douglas to be a floor general.
* - Halftime provided one of those unforgettable, nowhere-else-but-the-Garden moments, as President Bill Clinton walked out onto the Garden floor to address the crowd, and the ESPN audience, about the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.
The 47 players represented by agent Arn Tellem and the Wasserman Media Group all pledged to donate money toward the fund and Tellem's agency will match the players' number. Knicks forward Danilo Gallinari, a Tellem client, joined Lakers forward Pau Gasol before the game to meet privately with Clinton for a photo op.