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

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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.

Kyle Kuzma says Lonzo Ball hitting weight room hard this offseason

Associated Press
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It wasn’t just Lonzo Ball‘s awkward jumper that was a problem for him, so was his finishing around the rim — Ball shot less than 50 percent in the restricted area and 43.6 percent inside eight feet. In today’s NBA, he has to become more of a consistent scoring threat to open up his passing lanes.

Part of that is Ball getting physically stronger, something that also would help him avoid injuries and play in more than 52 games (what he did as a rookie). That part he is working on already, Kyle Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Consistency in the weight room, that is the biggest thing,” Kuzma said on Tuesday of what he has seen out of Ball this offseason so far. “He has been in there pretty much every day I have been in here around this time. You can tell he is taking the weight room a lot more serious and that is going to help him by allowing him to recover faster and hopefully next year be on the court more because of that weight room.”

The Lakers are counting on the development of their young core — Ball, Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, etc. — as well as free agents they can attract this summer to lift them into the playoffs next season.

Magic Johnson told Ball this is going to be the most important summer of his life, that now he has to put in the work to take his body and game to the next level. To play like a No. 2 pick.

So far, so good.

Re-watch highlights from the final minutes of Houston’s series-tying win

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After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team ran out of gas, which is what led to their 3-of-18 fourth-quarter shooting and just 12 points. There’s some truth to that, particularly with Andre Iguodala out forcing other guys into the rotation and a heavier load on the stars.

But give the Rockets credit here.

Part of what wore down the Warriors was fantastic pressure defense from Houston that made Golden State really work on offense. As Golden State got tired, players settled for midrange jumpers, not getting to the rim much (three times in the quarter) and not having the legs under their threes (0-of-6 in the quarter).

Meanwhile, it wasn’t pretty, but James Harden and Chris Paul were making plays.

Check out those plays again in the video above — we finally got a good game in a series, we should savor that.

Steve Kerr on Warriors’ late possession vs. Rockets: “I wanted the timeout”

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The Houston Rockets leveled the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night by a margin of 95-92. The win for the Rockets was ugly, but it leveled the series at 2-2 heading back to Houston.

It was a close game down the stretch, and it looked like Golden State’s last chance to get the win was going to come on a possession with 11 seconds to go following a missed James Harden jumper.

The Warriors immediately turned up the floor and did not call a timeout. The resulting possession was messy, and it wound up ending on a difficult Klay Thompson turnaround jumper. Golden State would get another shot at a 3-pointer with half a second left thanks to a foul on Thompson’s miss, but many were still left wondering why Steve Kerr did not choose to call a timeout during the possession before.

Kerr addressed the decision after the game.

Via Twitter:

You sort of have to side with Kerr in principle, but if you’d seen the way the Warriors played the rest of that fourth quarter you would probably err on calling a timeout and letting them set something up. Curry was 1-of-8 in the fourth, Durant shot poorly most of the game, and Golden State scored 12 total points in the final period.

When you consider Curry got a look at a wide open 3-pointer in the corner with 0.5 seconds left on the clock when the Warriors did call a timeout on the next possession, it makes it look even worse.

In any case, Houston beat out Golden State in a close game and we’re headed back to Texas for Game 5 on Thursday.

Rockets survive gut punch from Warriors, even Western Conference Finals at 2-2

AP
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The Houston Rockets can only win against the Golden State Warriors in one way: ugly.

During their Game 2 blowout against the defending champions, Houston’s 22-point victory was ugly for the Warriors. In Tuesday’s Game 4 win, it was ugly for the Rockets despite the 95-92 score in their favor.

Golden State came out of the gates hot, scoring the first 12 points of the game as it was clear that the Warriors were drawing off of the home crowd back in Oakland. Houston eventually settled, coming back with a massive 34-point second quarter. Mike D’Antoni, using an abbreviated rotation, found a way to up his team’s defense on the Warriors, clamping down on Golden State from the 3-point line.

The Rockets took a 53-46 lead into the half, and needed to brace for the coming changes from Steve Kerr’s squad.

Unsurprisingly, the Warriors answered with a 34 point quarter of their own to open the second half. Golden State found their range from 3-point land as — guess who — Stephen Curry started to go nuclear. Kevin Durant, who scored 27 points but shot a woeful 37.5 percent from the field, started to slow even as he got open looks off jumpers above smaller defenders.

Then came the fourth quarter.

Houston remained resolute, and full of energy as PJ Tucker and Chris Paul jumped for loose balls and battled for rebounds. Meanwhile, Golden State appeared to slowly run out of gas. Steve Kerr said as much after the game, intimating that his own shortened lineup without Andre Iguodala could have played a role.

D’Antoni, who obviously had a game plan to better defend Durant, then focused his attention toward Curry. The Warriors point guard finished the game shooting 1-for-8 in the fourth quarter, including a miss on the final shot of the game.

Curry scored 28 points with six rebounds and two assists. Durant added 12 rebounds and three assists to his scoring total. Draymond Green contributed 11 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists.

For Houston it was Harden who led the way with 30 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Paul had 27 points to go with four assists and two rebounds. PJ Tucker, who scored just four points, grabbed a whopping 16 boards. Clint Capela was much the same, scoring eight points while grabbing 13 rebounds.

This season’s Western Conference fighters has been both puzzling and Expected. Well the variants of victory margin has been much greater than any of us anticipated for both sides, the fact that the coaches on each bench are trying to out dual each other each game Runs with the idea we have of some of the best playoff series in NBA history. In fact, the back-and-forth battle between two teams as they trade winds is perhaps what makes be later rounds of the NBA playoffs so worth watching.

Houston’s victory was gritty, and defensive, and not much to look at. True to his persona, after the final horn Rockets point guard Paul called it, “A fun game.”

While we finally got ourselves a close conference finals game out West, the question now turns to what the teams will do for Game 5 back in Houston. Will this series become more competitive? Or will Houston and Golden State continue the back-and-forth, big-margin victories we’ve seen thus far?

No matter what, there’s no doubt the Rockets will be trying to recapture the defensive aura they held in Game 4 as Golden State tries to find a way to break through it.