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I admit, I was a Linskeptic. I wrote earlier this week that Linsanity needed to stop, simply because the last thing the Knicks need right now is a false prophet who will clash with their designated star, Carmelo Anthony. Or a flash in the pan who will convince the Knicks to dump money into an ill-fated contract. But I went to the Garden on Wednesday to watch the Knicks take on the Sacramento Kings, and to take a look in person at the Asian Sensation that has captured America’s heart.
And dammit, Jeremy Lin is awesome.
He had his lowest scoring output of the season, but probably his best overall game. He didn’t hit a game winning shot, but he didn’t need to, and that was the best part. The Knicks played the most energized first quarter I’ve ever seen and never looked back. Lin threw a minimum six alley-oops, including two to a revitalized Landry Fields and several more to Tyson Chandler and Amare’ Stoudemire. He dished out 13 assists in all, he shot 4-6 from the field and was a huge reason the Knicks jumped out to such an insurmountable lead.
He also attracted a sell-out. A serious, no BS sellout with the likes of Al Gore, Whoopi Goldberg, Mary J. Blige, Mike Tyson and Bobby Bacala (of Soprano’s fame) to the Garden.
Oh right. Also about 10,000 Asian people. No joke, at least half the crowd was either Asian fans or people holding up Lin masks. The only thing I’ve ever seen like it was Asian Heritage Night at the Garden four years ago, when Yao Ming and the Rockets came to town. They were a boisterous contingent as well – Lin got the loudest reception, even when his face was shown during the pre-game shoot-around. The second loudest reception was for STAT, who just returned from mourning his brother and has looked terrific in his two games with Lin.
Once the game started, there was no question who the alpha dog on the court. Lin handled the ball on every play, and the first thing I noticed was how in control of the offense he is. He plays with supreme confidence and has preternatural court vision – he basically plays like a kid who banged out 1,000 games of NBA Live on his Playstation, which I imagine he did.
He’s gifted physically, although a little bulk would help him on defense. He basically guarded Al Thornton and Tyreke Evans all game, but played off the ball handler for a lot of the second half. Clearly Mike D’Antoni knows he has limitations on D, though I think he expended way too much energy chasing around the off-guard. Let’s just say his defense is a work-in-progress and be thankful he doesn’t have to face Chris Paul tonight.
My friend pointed out that Lin keeps his head up at all times while dribbling, looking down only to pass. In truth, he throws more no-look passes than a player in his sixth career start usually can. That led to the aforementioned alley-oops, plus oodles of open shots and easy dunks in transition, but also six turnovers.
Yeah, he’s not perfect. Lin has a real problem with the double team, and an even bigger problem with the jump pass. When he gets trapped at the top of the key, he picks up his dribble. When he drives into the pain and the defense collapses, he jumps and passes. It’s one of the only cardinal sins of point guard play: don’t jump to pass! Lin is CONSTANTLY driving into the paint, into the jaws of the D, then leaving his feet and whipping the ball around his body. This is not a winning basketball play, and is probably the main problem Lin has right now.
It’s the main problem because the previous problem, which was basically his shoot-first attitude, was apparently a mirage. He played like a true point guard Wednesday, and if he can continue to get the ball to his teammates where they need it, the Knicks will be a tough out for the rest of the season. Right now, the team has fantastic chemistry and even the second unit is playing great basketball. Lin was a shot in the arm to Jared Jeffries and Chandler, and the sudden semi-emergence of Steve Novak as the homeless man’s Ryan Anderson is a nice boost for the bench. That unit may soon get a nice present in the form of JR Smith, who I assume will come off the bench.
But he’s not the only new edition. The biggest test comes when Melo returns, and he will probably come back at some point before the Knicks hit the road. Melo and Lin are saying all the right things about the impending reunion, but let’s be honest: Lin is not taking that game-winner in Toronto with Melo on the court. It’s going to be a weird few games, and it may nip all this in the bud.
Furthermore, the rest of the season is tough in general – this win streak has coincided with the cupcake portion of the schedule, and Friday night’s matchup against New Orleans should be another easy win as well. Saturday is when it starts to get tough, when the defending champion Mavericks come to town. Next week the Knicks get Atlanta and Miami, possibly the two best teams in basketball right now, and it gets harder still. The Knicks then embark on a murderous road trip through Boston, Dallas, San Antonio and Milwaukee, with a quick stop home for first-place Philadelphia. They play Chicago immediately after, with home-and-home dates against a tough Pacers team and another tussle with the Chicago late in the season.
This is a long way of saying the Knicks aren’t going to win 40 games in a row and sweep the playoffs. Lin will have some bad games against the likes of LeBron James and Derrick Rose. The Linsanity will die down, and the Knicks will probably finish the season around where they are now, which is .500. They should be a lock for the playoffs, but a first round matchup with Miami is probably not in their favor. But if they found a guy that can stave off the Deron Williams/Chris Paul/Free Agent X talk for a while, the Knicks may have a shot in the future.
I promised this season would get weird, and right on cue, it did.