Perfect storm continues for Jeremy Lin, Knicks cruise to win

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Linsanity is now 7-0.

For the sensation that is Jeremy Lin to be unleashed — from the wins to the mania that gripped New York and spilled over into popular culture — it takes more than just the fantastic play of Lin. Although that is certainly the catalyst. But it takes a perfect storm of things coming together.

That storm washed over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night and swept them out in a 100-85 win for New York. And it wasn’t that close. But that is what the storm of Linsanity brings now to lesser teams. Lin finished with 10 points on 4-of-6 shoointg, a career-best 13 assists and was a plus-19 on the night.

To get to this blowout win, Linsanity’s storm took a lot of factors coming together.

It starts with Lin working hard on his game during the lockout, making improvements with his outside shot, going left and other areas that the Warriors never got to see because they waived him before their first practice. Improvements the Rockets never got to really see because they were already deep with good point guards like Kyle Lowry.

Then it takes him getting a chance in New York, playing on a Knicks team desperate for a point guard that knew how to run the pick-and-roll and organize an offense. Skills that are in Lin’s wheelhouse. He was the perfect fit. It helped that he got a chance to start his run and gain confidence against a series of teams — the Nets, Jazz, Wizards — that are terrible defensively, especially against the pick-and-roll. Give Lin all the credit because he took advantage of those defenses and with each bucket, with each assist his confidence grew. He developed a real swagger against those teams that he unleashed on better squads like the Lakers.

The storm of his popularity also takes a Knicks’ fan base desperate for a messiah at the point guard to save this team and their hopes of winning with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. Those hopes seemed to ride on Baron Davis’ unstable back — then suddenly Lin came in and grabbed his chance.

Add to that fact that Lin is Taiwanese-American, becoming the face of a fan base, and that he plays in New York and you have fuel for that storm. Lin would be a big story anywhere, but it is magnified under the bright lights of Broadway.

But in the end, it is about the basketball. All the things that Lin has brought to the Knicks were on display against the Kings on Wednesday.

Lin has brought creativity and freedom to Mike D’Antoni’s offense that was lacking before. With Anthony trying to be a square peg in a round hole as a point-forward, there were a lot of isolations and a lot of standing around. When the ball is in Lin’s hands guys will move off the ball because they know if they get open they will get fed for an easy bucket.

Against Sacramento that became evident with a series of backdoor cuts and ally-oops, as well as wide-open 3-pointers when the defense collapsed on Lin driving the lane.

Lin also brings a balanced attack where everyone gets involved — it’s hard to defend that. Seven Knicks were in double figures led by Landry Fields with 15. Stoudemire added 11 as he is still getting used to playing with Lin.

To be truthful, all sorts of things open up against the Kings defense, which was 27th in the league coming in (giving up 104.7 points per 100 possessions; the league average is 100.2). Like a lot of young teams, they watched the ball too much and lost their man, they collapsed and overhelped. The Knicks destroyed them on backcuts all night long.

For a guard playing like Lin, that kind of defense is like Christmas Day. The Knicks started the game shooting 10-of-12 and Lin had six assists. The game felt over that quickly. Tyreke Evans led the Kings with 19. DeMarcus Cousins played well early, but as tends to happen with him when he got frustrated he started forcing bad shots and not hustling constantly. The result was 15 points on 18 shots and as many fouls as rebounds (4).

You could really see what Lin means to the Knicks when he sat to rest, and the Knicks had nobody who could create penetration or run the pick-and-roll, and they looked like they had much of the season. The Kings could not exploit that.

At some point Lin will come back to earth a little, all storms eventually die out. But what he has brought to the Knicks in terms of balance and creativity could last, and could carry them a long way in the future. They look like the team we all expected them to be right now.

Report: Gordon Hayward’s earliest possible return is March

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Gordon Hayward‘s agent, Mark Bartelstein, said the Celtics wing was unlikely to return this season following surgery for a broken leg and dislocated ankle.

We’re obviously dealing with unknowns and probabilities, but there’s another spin to the timeline.

Mike Lynch of WCVB:

It’d be great for Hayward and the Celtics if he can return in March. That’d give him time to acclimate before the playoffs, which Boston could still make.

However, this report casts doubt whether the Celtics will receive a disabled-player exception for Hayward. The NBA grants the exception – worth $8,406,000 in this case – if a league-appointed physician rules Hayward is “substantially more likely than not” to be unable to play through June 15.

When he said Hayward would likely miss the season, did Bartelstein mean the regular season, Boston’s season or the entire postseason? Those could be quite different dates. How likely is a player with at least a chance of returning in March to remain out through June 15?

The NBA is fairly lenient on granting disabled-player exceptions. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Celtics got one.

But I also wouldn’t be surprised if they’re denied – which, in a way, would signal good news for them and Hayward.

Three Things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo spoils Boston home opener

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Every night in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, especially on this, the real opening night of the NBA with 22 teams in action. Every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Tonight, that includes a few historic numbers… good and bad.

1) Brad Stevens, Celtics have no answer on how to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo either. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re getting mentioned in the record books with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, you’re doing something very right. Monday night, the Greek Freak was rolling to the rim and finishing alley-oops over defenders, hitting floaters and leaners in the lane, and generally using his length to get any shot he wanted against the Celtics on his way to a 37-point, 13 rebound night in Boston. The only other Buck to have an opening night of at least 35 and 10? Yup, one Mr. Abdul-Jabbar.

Put a smaller defender on Antetokounmpo and he shoots right over them. Put a bigger defender on him and he goes around them — or just over them too. Brad Stevens tried a lot of things on defense, and while Al Horford had a little first-half success slowing him nobody did all game as he shot 59.1 percent on his way to dropping 37.

Notice all those shots are close to the rim. Antetokounmpo was a ridiculous 10-of-12 at the rim and 12-of-18 in the paint overall, but just 1-of-4 outside the key. It’s easy to say “make him a jump shooter” but good luck finding anyone who can stay in front of him, or that he can’t just finish over. The man was dunking over Aron Baynes, how do you get anyone much bigger in front of him?

Boston was up four points entering the fourth quarter when the second night of a back-to-back seemed to hit them, they scored just 20 points on 8-of-25 shooting in the final frame, 4-of-21 outside the restricted area. Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo went off for 16 in the fourth as he ramped up his aggressiveness and Brad Stevens and the Celtics had no answer. Marcus Smart was fiery and got into it with Matthew Dellavedova, that may have exemplified Boston’s spirit, but Celtics looked physically and emotionally worn down by the end. Hard to blame them.

Rough start to the season for Boston, who lost Gordon Hayward just minutes into the opener (he’s out for the season), they fell to the Celtics Tuesday night and now are off to an 0-2 start. They will bounce back, but just now how the team with all these new players thought things would start.

2) Jeremy Lin injures knee and there is “tremendous” concern it is serious. Midway through the fourth quarter against the Pacers, Jeremy Lin drove the lane and finished a layup at the rim that looked ordinary — except when he landed he went to the ground grabbing his knee and did not get back up.

This isn’t good. Neither were the reports during and after the play.

Brooklyn was counting on Lin to help stabilize the point guard position and the backcourt with D'Angelo Russell (who had 30 on the night in a losing effort). If Lin is done for all or most of the season, it’s a huge setback for a team that, while bad, was expected to be a little better than in previous seasons. Remember, the Cavaliers have Brooklyn’s first-round pick this season unprotected (part of the Kyrie Irving trade from Boston).

• While we’re on the injury front, Boston’s Gordon Hayward underwent surgery on his dislocated ankle and fractured tibia on Wednesday, and according to his agent he is “unlikely” to return this season. Hayward did send a video message to Celtics fans thanking them. Boston will try to move on, but it’s been a difficult and emotional start to the season for the Celtics.

3) Suns’ season opening performance wasn’t just bad, it was the worst ever. The record for worst opening night loss in NBA history belonged to the 1987 Los Angeles Clippers coached by Gene Shue, who were blown out by Denver by 46 points.

No more. That record now belongs to the Phoenix Suns, who fell at home to the Portland Trail Blazers 124-76 — a 48 point loss. The Suns shot 31.5 percent as a team — Devin Booker was 6-of-17 and didn’t hit a three, Eric Bledsoe was sloppy and reckless all night and finished 5-of-18 with five turnovers and three assists, while Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss combined to go 1-of-10 off the bench. The Phoenix offense was about as in synch as the left shark, and many possessions ended with a terrible shot being jacked up because, well, somebody had to shoot it.

I’d like to say this was a good omen for the Trail Blazers’ defense, but really it’s impossible to judge how good it was against this offense. It was still a win the Blazers will gladly take, Damian Lillard had 24 points while Pat Connaughton came off the bench for 22.

PBT Extra: Bobby Portis punch adds to challenges for Bulls this season

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Nikola Mirotic will be out 4-6 weeks due to his concussion and fractured jaw.

Bobby Portis has been suspended for the first eight games of the season for causing those injuries to Mirotic with a punch at practice.

What does this mean for a Bulls locker room that was already going to have to deal with the weight of losing a lot of games.  I get into all these questions in this latest PBT Extra.

It’s going to be a long season in Chicago.

Gordon Hayward’s agent says return this season unlikely

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Wednesday night in Boston Gordon Hayward underwent surgery to repair his dislocated ankle and fractured tibia suffered just five minutes into the season-opening game, a gruesome injury that put a pall over the rest of the night.

There had been hope from some Celtics fans that Hayward could return this season, likely for the playoffs, but now that the surgery is complete Hayward’s agent told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN not to expect him back until next season.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw the injury. Hayward is in the first year of a four-year deal with the Celtics, they were always going to choose a cautious path rather than rush him back. Under Danny Ainge Boston has always taken the long view, even with all their moves this summer — specifically bringing in Hayward and Kyrie Irving — the target was to be the team set up for next as LeBron James and the Cavaliers faded. That plan does not change now.

Earlier in the day, Hayward had sent a video message out to Celtics fans thanking them for their support in the past 24 hours.

Without Hayward, the Celtics now will focus more on smaller lineups, rookie Jayson Tatum will get more run, as will Marcus Smart in his contract year. Jaylen Brown will be thrust into a more significant role. Also, Kyrie Irving will be asked to do more as the team’s second-best playmaker is now out for the season.

The Celtics will take a step back this season without Hayward, who was going to be crucial for them on both ends of the floor. That’s evidenced by their 0-2 start, falling to the Cavaliers and Bucks on the first couple nights of the season. Boston should still be a team well above .500 and in the playoffs, but they will not be quite the same this season.