Jeremy Lin returns to Madison Square Garden Monday, without “Linsanity”

10 Comments

Jeremy Lin is back in the place it all came together for him.

But it’s not the same.

Monday night Jeremy Lin brings his new team the Houston Rockets into Madison Square Garden to take on the team where for a stretch he played stunningly good, exciting basketball that energized a sullen fan base. It was enough to win the hearts of many Knicks fans, it was enough to earn a three-year, $25 million contract offer from Houston that Knicks management did not want to match. Which pissed off a lot of Knicks fans.

But it was best for Lin the basketball player. We’ll get to that.

While fans and media want to reminisce about the weeks of “Linsanity” in New York and how that led to a contract with him leaving town, Lin and the Knicks players didn’t really want to go there. Lin told the Houston Chronicle he wanted some closure.

“If I were to be realistic, there will probably be a little bit of nostalgia or reminiscing and thankful for those times because those were great times,” Lin said. “At the same time, it’s the next chapter. I’m definitely ready to get it over with. I think in some sense there will be some closure. This will be the first return back to MSG, and there will never be another first return. We’re going to go out and play and have some fun.”

This may be the closure Lin wants, because Linsanity seems to be dying. If you want some evidence, notice that fans around the world did not have Lin voted among the starters to the NBA All-Star Game in the first ballot returns. He was third in guards in the West, behind Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, but still ahead of guys he shouldn’t be like teammate James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and O.J. Mayo.

In part the fascination with Lin is dying because the Knicks have been good this season, the top team in the East at 18-5. Plus new Knicks point guard Raymond Felton is playing pretty well. If the Knicks and Felton were struggling fans would be revisiting the Lin decision a lot more.

The other part is that Lin himself is struggling — he is scoring 10.8 points per game (down from 14.6 with the Knicks last season), he is shooting 39.5 percent this season (down from 44.6 percent), he is assisting on a lower percentage of his teammates baskets, his PER has dropped from a borderline All-Star level of 19.9 down to a below average 13.1.

Lin admitted he is struggling talking to the New York Post, following a 3-for-9 shooting performance in Toronto Sunday where Lin had seven points, two assists and three turnovers.

“Terrible. I think I’m not doing close to what I’m capable of doing and it’s a matter of figuring out how to get myself to play more like myself within the system with the change of scenery. I’ll be my harshest critic but I’ll go ahead and say it: I’m doing terrible.’’

His move out of New York was still the best thing for him.

While a perfect storm of events came together for Lin last season to spark Linsanity, he is still a guy that came into the season undrafted and having started 25 games in the NBA. He had a steep learning curve ahead of him — he has struggles to go left, he doesn’t have a great three point shot yet (31.5 percent this season), he is shooting just 30.4 percent from 10 feet out to the arc this season (last season 46.4 percent) making it easier to guard him, and he has to learn to work off the ball more with James Harden on his team.

It’s the kind of learning curve a lot of good 23 year olds with potential struggle with in the NBA.

But if Lin had to do this in New York right now his struggles would be all over the back page of the New York Post, fighting for headlines of futility with the Jets. It would be much harder for him to develop under that microscope, with all that that attention and demands on his time.

In Houston, he can pretty much walk up to the arena unbothered. He’s a star and one of the faces of the franchise, but the intensity of attention is different. As is the pressure to win now — the Rockets are rebuilding, there is no rebuilding in New York. (Well, there had to be after Isiah Thomas, but that’s another story.)

He needs a season to play and struggle and figure it out. And he will. He may never again play for an extended period like those weeks of Linsanity, but he can be a good NBA point guard. It just takes time, and in Houston he will get it in a way he couldn’t in New York.

Dwight Howard still feeling ‘super’ expectations with Hornets

Dave Reginek/Getty Images
Leave a comment

DETROIT – Dwight Howard went from leading Orlando in the NBA Finals to playing in star-studded Los Angeles to joining a Houston team that also fancied itself a contender to being the highest-paid player in his hometown Atlanta to… landing in Charlotte, a small-market franchise with modest ambitions.

The spotlight finally off the former No. 1 pick, Howard doesn’t feel reduced pressure.

“Everybody expects me to be Superman every single night,” Howard said.

Howard is diving into his new situation – his third team in three years – headfirst. He’s leading pregame huddles and the Hornets onto the court.

“I have the most experience,” said Howard, in his 14th season. “So, it’s not to come in and fit in. It’s to come in and be a leader.”

This is the latest referendum on Howard. Despite eight All-NBA selections (most of them first-team) and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, he faces relentless criticism of his legacy.

His exit from the Magic was so ugly, it’s known as the Dwightmare. His feuding with the Lakers great is the stuff of legend in Kobe Bryant mythology. Howard never clicked with James Harden with the Rockets. The Hawks unloaded him for a paltry return in what was more salary rearrangement than salary dump, and his former teammates reportedly cheered.

Howard just seems to rub people the wrong way.

That makes his latest test in Charlotte so interesting. Howard is supplanting maybe Kemba Walker as the face of the team and definitely Cody Zeller as starting center. The Hornets have found success with Zeller, going 63-53 when he starts and 57-73 otherwise the last three seasons.

“The nature of his game, he plays in a way to help other people play better,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Zeller. “He is a screener. He is a ball-mover.”

In other words, the type of player teammates love.

Is Howard?

Howard is still solidly productive. In Charlotte’s season-opening loss to the Pistons, he posted 10 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks – and ruffled a few feathers. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

https://twitter.com/Vincent_Ellis56/status/921100491362365440

Dirty-work players who irritate opponents are revered. High-priced players who irritate their teammates are loathed.

Howard walks a fine line.

He returned to Atlanta with emotion and expectations. By the end of his time with the Hawks, everyone seemed unhappy. Still, Howard says he’s grateful for the opportunity to play in front of people, especially his grandparents, who watched him grow up.

“Atlanta is going to be my home,” Howard said. “The Hawks is always going to be my favorite team.”

It’s just never easy for Howard.

Even a career Basketball Reference pegs as 99% likely to end in the Hall of Fame based on his tangible accomplishments stirs controversy.

“He’s a Hall of Famer right now if he never played another game,” Clifford said.

Said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who coached Howard in Orlando: “It’s mind-boggling to me that would be any debate there.”

It’s probably easier for Van Gundy and Howard to recall their time together fondly than it was to enjoy it while partnered. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles while Howard was there, is just getting into his time as Howard’s head coach.

It’s those middle moments, in the throes of long seasons, that have proven difficult for Howard and those around him.

Here he is in Charlotte, hosting the Hawks tonight, and facing another challenge. The Hornets would probably be happy just making the playoffs and ecstatic advancing, which would be their first playoff-series victory since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Howard, who has reached three conference finals, is counting on himself to lead them there – even if nobody else is anymore.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

Getty Images
Leave a comment

This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelicans Friday

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

Getty Images
1 Comment

With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.