1:04 pm Feb. 13, 2012
The Jeremy Lin Knicks are now 5-0, following Saturday night's thrilling 100-98 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The latest victory didn't tell us much about Lin that we didn't already know. His strong play against one of the league's finest point guards, Ricky Rubio, reinforced the fact that he can keep up, to say the least, with the league's established stars.
While Lin faded badly in the second half of the Minnesota game—he shot just 1-for-12 after converting 7-of-12 attempts in the first half—that seemed to speak more to his fatigue than anything else. And near the game's conclusion, Lin managed to reach the hoop, draw a foul, and convert a free throw to give the Knicks the lead. Meanwhile, tired out by chasing Lin all night, Rubio committed a rare turnover that ultimately decided the game in the Knicks' favor.
The week ahead will begin to answer another question, which is just how well a full-strength Knicks team that includes Lin can function.
On Tuesday night, the 13-15 Knicks—who were 8-15 when Jeremy Lin took the court nine days ago—travel to Toronto to take on the Raptors. Toronto is one of the league's worst defensive teams, in part due to a point guard, Jose Calderon, who has trouble moving laterally. This would seem to be a big opportunity for Lin, particularly after a much-needed couple of days off.
Crucially, this game represents the return to the team of Amar'e Stoudemire, who has missed the past week due to the death of his brother. This is a major development by itself, on multiple levels.
But it is particularly significant in the context of the new-look team. In theory, there could hardly be a better offensive complement for Lin, a masterful executor of the pick and roll, than Stoudemire, arguably the league's best pick and roll finisher.
Some of Stoudemire's early-season struggles can be chalked up to an off-season spent rehabbing his back rather than getting into basketball shape. But it is no small thing that he lacked a point guard who could deliver the ball to him. The Knicks have yet to see what will happen this season when he has one.
New York next returns home to face Sacramento on Wednesday. The Knicks crushed Sacremento on the road earlier this year, in the midst of one of the team's worst stretches of basketball this year. The Kings are near the bottom of the N.B.A. in offense, defense, and not surprisingly, victories. They offer the Knicks another chance to let Lin and Stoudemire coalesce, and Madison Square Garden another opportunity to whip itself into a frenzy.
After a day off, New York hosts New Orleans at home on Friday night. The Hornets, at 4-23, have the worst record in the Western Conference. Point guard Jarrett Jack will be solid, at least. But New Orleans really has no one to match up against Stoudemire, who should be back in the flow of the offense by this time.
Carmelo Anthony may return this week as well, allowing the Knicks to start integrating both of their elite scorers into the Lin-run offense. Anthony hurt his groin last Monday, and was given a one-to-two-week timetable for a return. A re-evaluation should be announced shortly. The Knicks with Anthony drawing defensive attention, creating more space for the Lin and Stoudemire to pick and roll, should present a defensive challenges to anyone in the league.
It's hard to imagine that Lin and the Knicks could do anything to top the week they just had. But the stage is set, again.