Enjoying the Jeremy Lin ride, which may get bumpy

26 Comments

We need to be honest — the three defenses that Jeremy Lin has carved up as the starting point guard for the Knicks are three terrible defenses. All three are in the bottom 10 in the league in defensive efficiency, and the best one (Utah) has slow bigs who are awful against quick guards — the pick-and-roll ball handler has burned them all season (29th in the league).

But so what?

You have to beat the team in front of you and Lin has done just that. He exploited his opponents’ weaknesses — that is how you win games in the NBA. The fact is Lin has gotten the Knicks three victories in a season where the Knicks drop these kinds of games by playing without passion.

Lin has passion, and that has made him fun to watch. Linsanity has ignited New York.

If you love the game, it’s hard not to have a smile on your face when you watch him play.

He is a cold beer on a hot day to Knicks fans — it doesn’t matter that he’s not a finely brewed, artisanal craft beer; he’s what the Knicks needed right now. He’s the first point guard they have that fits the Mike D’Antoni system. He plays smart and aggressively off the strong high pick that Tyson Chandler sets — Lin has a little Chris Paul-like hesitation off the pick then changes speeds as he gets to the elbow or into the lane. He reads the play incredibly well, and roll guys like Chandler are benefiting. Spot up guys are getting the ball with space and in rhythm.

In basketball circles, people keep expecting teams to figure Lin out soon. Check out this note from Michael Lee of the Washington Post talking about Wizards coach Randy Wittman.

After Lin finished with 23 points and a career-high 10 assists, Wizards Coach Randy Wittman had to absorb an equally painful text message from his son, Ryan, who played against Lin for four years in the Ivy League at Cornell.

“He told me that they did a much better job guarding him than we did tonight,” Wittman said with an uncomfortable chuckle. “Makes Dad feel good.”

Lin has been entertaining, but the book on him is growing and he is going to have to grow himself to keep this going. Pretty soon teams are going to go under those picks and give him an outside shot — he is shooting 9 percent from three this season and is not steady outside 16 feat. Lin doesn’t finish well with his left hand, smart teams will force him that way (although how long have we said Lamar Odom and Corey Maggette are one handed and they stuck).

It’s about adjustments and improvements. You see this in baseball — a young pitcher comes up from the minors midseason and has a handful of great games, until hitters have seen him a few times and they adjust and start smacking him around. Then it’s on the pitcher to adjust again.

Soon that will be on Lin. Defenses will adjust. What’s more, he’s going to have to adjust with the team on the floor when Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony return and start taking up possessions and shots.

Friday night against the Lakers is going to be fun — Derek Fisher isn’t going to stop him (or anyone else), but under Mike Brown the Lakers big men have been very aggressive showing out on pick-and-roll ball handlers. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are long and athletic (Gasol is a particularly good big in that situation) so this will be by far Lin’s biggest test.

That’s not to say that the ride is over (after Los Angeles it’s Minnesota then three more teams under .500), just that the road is about to get a lot bumpier.

Fasten your seatbelts Knicks fans, it’s going to be a bumpy night. And those can be the best rides of all.

DeMarcus Cousins ejected after elbowing Russell Westbrook in head

1 Comment

DeMarcus Cousins‘ history of flagrant fouls certainly didn’t help him here, but if anyone elbows a guy in the head, he’s going to get tossed.

And that’s what Cousins did here.

Midway through the third quarter in New Orleans, Cousins blocked a putback attempt by Russell Westbrook, then grabbed the rebound. Westbrook tried to reach in across Cousins’ body for the steal, and Cousins cleared out space with his elbow — right to Westbrook’s head. Cousins walked around saying “no, no, no” afterward, and he likely thinks the officials had it out for him here because he was just getting a guy off him, but we go back to the original point — elbow a guy in the head, get tossed. The league is cracking down on blows above the neck. Westbrook did not leave the game.

The Pelicans went on to come from 19 down to win the game 114-107, behind 36 points and 15 boards from Anthony Davis.

Damn, Paul George with the in-game bounce pass alley-oop to Jerami Grant

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The game has been close (as of midway through the third quarter), but that didn’t stop Oklahoma City from putting on a show in New Orleans.

Paul George had the ball on a 2-on-0 fast break and decided to throw the playground bounce-pass alley-oop, which Jerami Grant got up and finished with authority. This could be one of the dunks of the year.

We’re going to see that highlight for a while.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

Associated Press
1 Comment

Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.

Celtics look to push win streak to 16 vs. Mavs

Getty Images
Leave a comment

DALLAS (AP) — The Boston Celtics aren’t yet halfway to the NBA record for consecutive victories, a mark the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers still hold, but at 15 in a row, they are in rare territory.

Since 1946-47, there have only been 35 instances of a 15-game win streak or longer. And of all the legendary Celtics teams, this squad already holds the franchise’s fifth-longest win streak. A victory Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks, who are an NBA-worst 3-14 overall and 2-8 at American Airlines Center, would tie the 1964-65 Boston team’s 16-game win streak.

If the Celtics (15-2) get the win, they would climb closer to the 1959-60 team’s 18-game win streak, and then comes the club mark of 19 in a row accomplished by the 2008-09 team.

This version of the Celtics has to be considered the most unexpected to string together so many wins. The team has a slew of new players, starting with guard Kyrie Irving, and Boston lost another prized newcomer, forward Gordon Hayward, in the season opener.

After starting 0-2, Boston hasn’t lost. Yet, it’s not exactly as if the Celtics are steamrolling the league. For the Mavericks, who are coming off snapping the Milwaukee Bucks’ four-game win streak Saturday, the fact that Boston has actually had to rally to get a handful of its wins must be seen as an opportunity to steal a decision.

In fact, four of the Celtics’ victories during the streak have come after Boston trailed by 16 points, including a 110-109 win against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

“Most of us have never been on a winning streak like this,” Irving said following the win over Atlanta. “I don’t know if we even know how to pay attention to all the hoopla that goes on in terms of the excitement of it. I just think that every single game we take it as a challenge.”

Irving has been accepting that challenge with tremendous success after asking to be traded away from Cleveland, where he won one title with LeBron James and lost twice in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors.

He closed out those same Warriors last week, scoring 11 of the last 15 points in the final 4:21. The clutch play has Irving already being talked about as an MVP candidate.

“He’s so good in those moments that you want to give him the appropriate amount of room,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told the Boston Globe about Irving. “Maybe it’s finding a matchup. Maybe it’s creating a two-man game with Al (Horford).”

Irving will be a major test for Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who has displayed some tremendous flashes while also showing he is a green 19-year-old with one season of college ball under his belt.

Dallas, one of the league’s lowest-scoring offensive teams, is relying heavily on Smith and Harrison Barnes to carry the load. Dirk Nowitzki, 39, has dropped off significantly, averaging just 10.3 points a game, his lowest output since his rookie season in 1998-99.

Unlike the Celtics, Dallas has lost its share of games by being unable to close out games late. On Saturday, the Mavericks won a rare game going away, blitzing the Bucks with a franchise-tying 19 3-pointers. Guard Wesley Matthews said he thinks all the hard work is starting to pay off.

The history-chasing Celtics will put that claim to test.

“We can actually see everything that we’ve been trying to do come together, and hopefully that just carries the momentum into the off day where everybody’s feeling good,” Matthews said after Dallas’ victory. “We’ve got another tough battle Monday against Boston, who is the hottest team in the league right now, but it’s another opportunity for us.”