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.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.