Breaking down the Knicks and Bulls

The Bulls are playing for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Knicks are scratching to make the playoffs. Our 5-on-5 crew evaluates how their respective seasons may end up.

1. What happened to Linsanity?

Ian Begley, ESPN New York: Wouldn't Mike D'Antoni like to know? Jeremy Lin's struggles have everything to do with teams taking away his strengths -- playing off of the pick-and-roll, going right, getting to the paint -- by using perimeter traps to slow him and cut off driving lanes. That and five straight losses have dulled the luster surrounding Linsanity.

Jim Cavan, KnickerBlogger: Linished, I'm afraid -- for now, anyway. Just as it took the perfect set of circumstances to spark Linsanity, so too have a toughening schedule, better scouting by opponents and changing roster dynamics (you know who you are) helped expedite an all-too-expected regression. Still, Lin's work ethic, competitiveness and cerebral approach to the game ought to bode well for his continued development.

James Herbert, Hardwood Paroxysm: Let's be real: We knew he wasn't a superstar. With his story and his superb start, the hype was deserved but impossible to live up to. Lin is an effective pick-and-roll player and a solid starter ideally suited for D'Antoni ball. If you drastically reduce the amount of pick-and-rolls you run, you expect his numbers to drop.

Beckley Mason, ESPN.com: Active ingredients in over-the-counter Linsanity medication: tougher schedule facing better teams in more road games; fewer pick-and-rolls since Carmelo Anthony returned; general exhaustion; a realization amongst opponents that he can't really go left; less Steve Novak.

Matt McHale, By The Horns: Look at the Knicks' schedule. Sure, they've lost 6-of-7, but four of those losses were in Miami, Boston (in OT), Dallas and San Antonio, and another was a home defeat to the Sixers. The games have gotten harder, opposing teams have had time to scout Lin and team chemistry is iffy at best. In short: reality caught up with the phenomenon.

2. Should the Knicks try to trade Melo and/or Amare?

Begley: No, and no. They won't get back anything of value in a trade for Stoudemire for several reasons: His numbers are down, his contract is uninsured and he's owed $65 million over the next three seasons. And I think It's too early to pull the plug on Anthony after everything the Knicks gave up to bring him to New York.

Cavan: Melo? No. Amare? Yes. Here's the thing, though: Stoudemire's massive -- and massively uninsured -- contract is probably about as appealing to teams as a super contagious flu bug, at this point. I feel like you have to give it until at least the end of the year, then weigh your options. Chances are Anthony's trade value will remain constant, so if it really goes south, dealing him is always an option.

Herbert: They can try, and you can make the argument that they should. But the ceiling for this team is still pretty high if Anthony can successfully integrate himself into Mike D'Antoni's system. Let's see if the offense improves down the stretch, then let's see what a training camp does if D'Antoni returns. We'll revisit this in a year.

Mason: They certainly shouldn't be averse to a good deal for either. Evidence indicates that D'Antoni and Anthony are just not a good fit together, and Amare is slowly crumbling in front of us.

McHale: Given his decline in productivity, nobody is going to take on Stoudemire's contract unless it comes with a time machine, and it's hard to give up on a talent like Melo. Therefore, it seems more reasonable to restructure the talent around those players and possibly investigate a coaching change.

3. Should the Bulls aggressively pursue Dwight Howard?

Begley: What team shouldn't? Howard's the type of player who turns a contender into a championship team. And putting Howard in a Bulls uniform gives them a distinct advantage over the Heat at the 5 spot. Depending on what you give up, of course, you risk affecting team chemistry. But a talent like Howard is well worth the risk.

That depends. Giving up Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Ronnie Brewer and other flotsam for Howard and Hedo Turkoglu's millstone contract might set you up nicely for the future. Then again, it might also compromise the unique chemistry that's already turned your team into a contender. As the deadline approaches, I'd be ready to make a move if the Magic get truly desperate, but I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to offer Orlando the best package possible.

Herbert: Yes, they absolutely should. I shouldn't have to explain why a Rose-Howard combination would be frightening. They just have to make sure Howard will stick around. And if Howard really doesn't want to be with the Bulls, I have some questions for him.

Mason: Should the Bulls aggressively pursue Dwight Howard? Sure. Joakim Noah's ballhandling and passing are crucial to Chicago's offense, but really he's just the defensive captain and an offensive rebounding monster, and can't Howard do those things even better? I'd find out what Orlando wants in return, but Chicago's collective strength is built on trust, and it would be silly to jeopardize that for a Howard pipe dream.

McHale: Howard is the best center in the league and he's presumably available at the right price. Most teams should be aggressively pursuing him. The Bulls included. But the price has to be right for Chicago, too. Can Bulls management pull off a trade that brings in Dwight without sacrificing their depth and team chemistry? Probably not. But they should at least look into it.

4. Will the Bulls be the top seed in the East again?

Begley: Yup. Just take a look at the remaining schedule. The Bulls have nine games against teams under .500, nine road games and five back-to-backs in their last 23 games. The Heat have nine of their last 26 games against teams under .500. But Miami has 13 road games, eight back-to-backs and two three-game road trips. That's rough.

Cavan: Both Chicago and Miami have been on terrifying tears of late, and both will have their share of tough games down the stretch. Chicago could certainly finish strong, but the way the Heat are playing, it's hard to imagine they won't erase the Bulls' current one-and-a-half-game buffer. Either way, it's hard to imagine these two teams not tussling for a trip to the Finals come spring.

Herbert: No. At full strength, I'd give the Heat a slight edge. And Chicago is not at full strength. The Bulls don't need to be the top seed as much as they need to be healthy and in rhythm come playoff time.

Mason: No. I'm only saying this to be consistent, but I think it's basically a 50-50 proposition with Miami.

McHale: No. The Bulls have suffered too many injuries to key players this season. Sure, they've weathered the storm pretty well, but the man games lost to injury have cost them a game here and there. At the end of the season that will end up being the difference when they finish a few games behind the Heat.

5. Will the Knicks make the playoffs?

Based on the talent on the roster alone, New York should finish in the seventh or eighth spot in the East. Granted, the roster depth hasn't done much for the Knicks thus far. And it's going to take more time for D'Antoni to figure out his rotations and for Baron Davis to return to full health. But as they progress toward those goals, I see them winning enough games to edge out Milwaukee and Cleveland.

Cavan: Yes. I've gotten used to watching the Knicks stumble their way into double-digit deficits, only to make a late, emboldened rally with their backs against the wall. I expect much of the same when it comes to nabbing a playoff berth -- minus, you know, the whole "falling just short" thing -- and think they channel this desperation into a late surge, before promptly being bludgeoned in four games by the Heat or Bulls.

Herbert: Yes, but it will be close. This five-game losing streak is tough, but the losses came on a deadly road trip and to an excellent Sixers team. It's the January losses they'll be ruing when they're fighting for their playoff lives.

Mason: Not how they are currently playing. Carmelo Anthony and Mike D'Antoni have 25 games to figure it out, and so far the results do not inspire confidence. Still there's so much talent in the top seven it's hard to believe they can't get on another hot streak, maybe right at the end of the season, when their schedule slackens a bit.

Yes. The Knicks will make the playoffs. They'll be the eighth seed and make an early exit, which will likely lead to Mike D'Antoni's dismissal and an overhaul of the roster. But they'll make the playoffs.

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Beckley Mason writes for ESPN.com. Ian Begley writes for ESPN New York. Matt McHale, Jim Cavan and James Herbert contribute to the TrueHoop Network.

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