The NBA's All-Star game may be looming, but the New York Knicks and Miami Heat may be delivering the marquee matchup of the season thus far.
In the toughest test yet for the phenomenon that is Jeremy Lin and the rest of the Knicks, they'll try to prove worthy of the astounding hype as they face LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Eastern Conference-leading Heat on Thursday night.
New York (17-17) has seen its season revived behind a complete unknown. Lin is averaging 23.9 points and 9.2 assists in helping the Knicks win nine of 11 while gaining global notoriety that's been dubbed "Linsanity."
"It's a great rags-to-riches story," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "That's the bigger story. And hopefully years from now it'll be about that, not about the ethnicity."
The hype has garnered some criticism, however, since Lin and the Knicks have played eight of those games against teams with current records at or below .500. However, they're 3-0 against teams with winning records following Wednesday's 99-82 victory over Atlanta, during which they led by as many 30 points.
Now, the stiffest challenge awaits New York before the All-Star break as it visits Miami (26-7), which enters as the NBA's hottest team with a seven-game win streak.
"It's going to be a high-energy game," Wade said. "The crowd is going to be into it. Fans around the world are going to watch the game, obviously, for many different reasons, so it'll be great."
The hype, as well as the Knicks' resurgence, has provided motivation for the Heat - atop the East by percentage points over Chicago - to prove Lin and the Knicks are just upstarts.
"It's the game right before All-Star," James said. "But it won't be like 'that' game before All-Star, like people are accustomed to. Everybody always says, you know, the game before All-Star, people are ready to get to All-Star weekend. I don't think so. Just knowing the rivalry, knowing the history between the Heat and Knicks. It could be one of the most watched games we've had in a long time, especially with what Jeremy Lin is doing."
While Lin's emergence has captivated the league, James and Wade are averaging 27.6 and 22.4 points, respectively.
The duo combined for a 59 points in a 99-89 win over the Knicks in Miami on Jan. 27, while Lin didn't get off the bench.
Wade is averaging 24.1 points while the Heat have gone 13-2 since, including 30 points and 10 assists in a 120-108 romp of Sacramento on Tuesday. James finished with 18 points and eight assists, as Miami's home winning streak reached eight games with a 14-2 record on the season.
The Heat aren't the only team swept up in the anticipation of this matchup.
"We're playing a great team, and it's going to be a good evaluation of where we're at," said Lin, who had 17 points and nine assists Wednesday. "So from that end obviously we're excited and ready for the challenge. But besides that, we're just going try to stay consistent."
Carmelo Anthony could help in that regard. The All-Star forward has totaled 26 points while making 11 of 27 shots from the floor over the last two games after sitting out seven with a groin injury.
He missed last month's meeting with the Heat due to wrist and ankle ailments, but he's averaged 26.0 points in 15 career games against them.
"It's going to be a lot of, a lot of anticipation about this game," Anthony said. "We're going down there to win. Miami is playing great basketball right now. One of the hottest teams, if not the hottest team in the NBA."