Linsanity II: Jeremy Lin leading surging Hornets on playoff push

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Perhaps this is the start of Linsanity II.

Hornets guard Jeremy Lin is heating up and surging Charlotte is blazing a trail to its second playoff appearance in three seasons under coach Steve Clifford.

Lin scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter Monday to lead the Hornets back from a 23-point deficit to beat San Antonio – the largest lead surrendered by the Spurs in the Tim Duncan era. Lin followed that with another strong performance on Tuesday night, scoring 21 points in a win over Brooklyn.

Michael Jordan’s Hornets (41-30) now find themselves in a three-way tie with Boston and Atlanta for the fourth best record in the Eastern Conference, just a half-game behind third place Miami.

Lin is a major reason why.

Acquired in the offseason via free agency, Lin is averaging 11.8 points and 2.9 assists per game for the Hornets in a reserve role.

Ordinary numbers compared to his history, but he’s stepped up his play the last two games, hitting 63 percent (19 of 30) from the field, including 5 of 6 from beyond the arc. He’s scoring in a variety of ways – long jumpers, drives to basket and on fast breaks. He’s also added nine rebounds and six assists, while providing a spark coming off the bench.

“He’s been phenomenal,” Hornets point guard Kemba Walker said.

When the Hornets trailed 30-7 to the Spurs in the second quarter, it was Lin who helped turn the momentum providing energy off the bench. He penetrated into the lane, which in turned opened up the offense

“Jeremy was the catalyst,” Clifford said. “In the first quarter, we were just shooting. The ball wasn’t getting into the paint. And he got the ball going to the basket.”

Lin hit 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and a 16-foot fall away jumper with 48 seconds left to give the Hornets the lead for good.

He said the win over the Spurs was a confidence builder for him.

“I think being comfortable and not thinking as much on the court and letting the ball fly and having fun,” Lin said of the difference in his game. “Shots are going in and I think that helps me, helps open up my drive.”

Forward Nicolas Batum said Lin has been “huge” for the Hornets.

“He did it (Monday) night in the second quarter to give us life, and he did it again (Tuesday) night,” Batum said. “I don’t think we would have won that game if he didn’t step up again for us.”

Lin is no stranger to carrying a team.

He did so back in 2012, when as an unheralded player out of Harvard he took Madison Square Garden by storm with a series of outstanding games for the New York Knicks. He became an international sensation, and wound up on Time magazine’s list of Top 100 most influential people of the year.

The media attention isn’t what it was in New York, but three teams later Lin appears to have found a home in Charlotte where he says “I love playing with this group of guys.”

Charlotte has won 17 of its last 21 games to break free from the pack in the East and vault into playoff contention.

Once a team that viewed simply making the playoffs as a goal, the Hornets now have a realistic shot to host a playoff series.

“We learned a lot about ourselves, and we just want to keep seeing what we can do,” Lin said. “That’s what coach has always been telling us. We don’t know what our ceiling is and we don’t want to say what our ceiling is because we don’t know.

“We’re just going to keep fighting, keep playing and stick with the process.”

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

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Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.

 

Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans

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Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.