Enjoying the Jeremy Lin ride, which may get bumpy

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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.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.