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.

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer reportedly tells organization he still wants playoff push

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When the Clippers traded their best player — Tobias Harris — right before the trade deadline, it was a move generally seen as throwing in the towel on this season’s playoffs, but it was applauded around the league because of the haul it brought back to L.A. It set the Clippers up with one max cap slot this summer and a reasonable path to a second one, plus the Clippers landed rookie shooting guard Landry Shamet, Philadelphia’s 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected) and the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick unprotected.

Except then the Clippers not long after traded for Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green — boosting the roster’s depth in needed spots. Not a move a team looking to fall out of the playoffs makes.

That’s because owner Steve Ballmer doesn’t want them to fall out of the playoffs, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Sources say Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has let it be known throughout the organization that he wants to keep making this playoff push. Never mind that such an accomplishment would cost them their first-round pick this season.

The coach and players should never be told to lose games, they need to go all-out every time they are on the court. That goes to the culture of an organization. If a decision is made to focus on the future, then it’s about roster decisions at the GM level. That is what the Clippers did, and there is nothing wrong — or even strange — about the owner telling them to push and try to make the playoffs.

Either way, it works for Los Angeles.

Make the playoffs as the eight seed and the Clippers are likely just the first-round appetizer for the Warriors as they chase a three-peat, but it shows potential free agents the role players on the team have grit and just need a star and leader. Their young stars would gain a little playoff experience. While the Clippers would lose this year’s first-round pick, giving up a late teens pick in what is considered a down draft (especially after No. 1) is not that painful a loss. It’s one less asset to throw in a potential trade (Anthony Davis anyone?), but it’s not devastating.

Miss the playoffs and they get a late-lottery pick and things go as expected.

Make or miss the playoffs, the Clippers are focused on July 1 and landing a couple of free agents, with Kawhi Leonard at the top of the list (and a lot of sources around the league think that’s where they are headed).