Even with that simple approach, the Knicks are toying with danger. They trotted out Amare Stoudemire, whose left hand was in pieces two days earlier, against the Heat on Sunday. And now they are talking about bringing back Jeremy Lin for Game 5 just a month after Lin had surgery on the meniscus in his left knee.
In a sense, the Knicks' staving off elimination on Sunday might have been the worst thing that could happen for them. Stoudemire's 20 points and 10 rebounds justified his return, although it was both laudable and cringe-worthy that he did so even though he could not even dribble with his heavily bandaged left hand. Regardless, Stoudemire is unlikely to jeopardize his career by playing through his injury, which looked gruesome but reportedly involved no nerve damage.
Lin's injury is another matter. An unofficial study done by me just now determined that every NBA career that ever ended prematurely was due to a knee injury (aside from that blip in the 1970s and '80s when there was that whole cocaine problem). The rash of freak knee injuries in these playoffs, including two that happened right in front of the Knicks' coaching and training staffs, have been further reminders that when it comes to that joint between the femur and the tibia, nothing is predictable.
When Lin had his surgery, the Knicks sort of floated the estimate that he could be back for the second round of the playoffs. The timeframe was understandable, if irresponsible. For one thing, it promoted optimism — "Hey, we plan on making it to the second round!" — at a time when the Knicks' qualification for the postseason at all was in doubt.
There is a funny thing about estimated recovery times, though. When a team states a player could return in four-to-six-weeks, fans and media members hear "four weeks." After two weeks, reporters start popping questions to team officials and fans begin calling into radio shows wondering if the player could make an early return, as though the faster, more optimistic four-week timetable were actually the baseline.
Lin might be as good as new, and an extra game or so might have no effect at all. Knee surgery is a lot less scary a proposition than it was as recently as 10 years ago. The estimated time it takes to get back on the court following some procedures has gradually decreased over the past few decades to "four to six weeks" from "never."
This is a matter of risk-reward. The risk for Lin (and Stoudemire) is that he aggravates the injury, causes irreversible damage and never again is effective as an NBA player. The reward is, at most, probably nothing more than pushing the Heat to an extra game in the series before bringing this schizophrenic Knicks season to an end.
One or two playoff games are probably not worth the tradeoff of a career's worth of games, both regular season and playoffs. Lin should be able to give the Knicks or some other team dozens of such games over the next few years, provided he can walk.