Lin leads Rockets’ rout in return to New York

Jeremy Lin will never forget that brief, beautiful stretch of
basketball known as Linsanity.

His first trip back to Madison Square Garden was memorable,
too.

Lin had 22 points and eight assists in his return to New York,
leading the Houston Rockets to a 109-96 victory Monday night that
ended the Knicks’ 10-game home winning streak to open the
season.

The undrafted point guard from Harvard said before the game he
would always remember his breakthrough, no matter how long he
plays. But he wasn’t thinking about it Monday, even as he put
together a good imitation of it.

”I’ve moved on, they’ve moved on,” Lin said. ”We have good
memories, but at the same time we’re all in a different place
now.”

Cheered then jeered, and later floored by Tyson Chandler’s
flagrant foul, Lin added another masterpiece to the ones he
compiled last season during the height of his memorable run. No
longer the fan favorite he was when wearing the home uniform, Lin
got a mixed reception when he left the game with 2:25 remaining and
the Rockets leading by 16.

”It was a lot of fun playing out there and I think our team, we
took a step in the right direction,” Lin said. ”And for me, it
was great to be back and it was a lot of fun to play on that court
again.”

James Harden had 28 points and 10 rebounds for the Rockets, who
blew out the Knicks for the second time this season. They have won
the last seven meetings, including a 131-103 rout in Houston on
Nov. 23.

Rookie Chris Copeland scored a career-high 29 points for the
Knicks, who played without leading scorer Carmelo Anthony and had
their four-game winning streak snapped. They fell to 18-6, matching
the record they had under Mike Woodson after he replaced Mike
D’Antoni on March 14 last season.

Woodson’s team decided not to match Houston’s contract offer to
Lin, and nobody could argue when Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and
Pablo Prigioni led the Knicks to the best record in the Eastern
Conference with a team that led the NBA in fewest turnovers.

But Lin was the best point guard on the floor, just as he so
often was during his dazzling run last winter, when the NBA’s first
American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent went from
undrafted benchwarmer to the biggest story in basketball.

”He had a good game, without a doubt,” Felton said. ”I never
talked junk about Jeremy Lin. Anything I said about Jeremy, I felt
like he deserved anything. He deserved everything he got. He had a
good game. Plain and simple.”

Felton scored 14 points but shot 7 of 18. Kidd was 2 for 9, and
both committed three turnovers.

The Rockets outscored the Knicks 54-29 over the middle two
quarters, denying New York its first 11-0 start at home since the
1991-92 season.

The Knicks trailed by just five midway through the third quarter
before the Rockets blew it open with a 15-0 run, with Lin either
scoring or assisting on five of their six baskets.

His layup opened the run, and he then found Marcus Morris for a
layup and a 3-pointer for a 67-55 Houston lead. Lin assisted on the
second of Harden’s consecutive 3-pointers, then had a steal and
layup that gave Houston a 75-55 cushion.

Lin saw some fans wearing his old jersey, but said he didn’t let
his mind drift back to last season during the game. He doubled his
scoring average in what he called an up-and-down season so far.

”I hope this is the start of a nice run for him, because he
works really hard,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. ”He’s a
great kid. He deserves it.”

Anthony decided Monday to give his sprained left ankle a second
straight game to recover. The Knicks did get good injury news when
Amare Stoudemire, out all season after left knee surgery, was
cleared to practice. He will work out with Erie, the Knicks’ NBA
Development League affiliate, when it practices at the Knicks’
training facility on Tuesday.

The Rockets snapped a seven-game road losing streak, their
longest since an eight-game skid in 2001-02.

A sellout crowd that included swimsuit model Kate Upton – who
was on one fewer Sports Illustrated covers than Lin last February –
gave the Harvard graduate a loud ovation during the introduction of
starting lineups. The cheers quickly turned to jeers once the game
started, particularly when he made a basket. There were boos when
Chandler knocked him to the ground with a shot to the head that
resulted in a flagrant foul.

”He hit me hard, but I still kept coming though,” Lin
said.

Chandler felt it was a clean, hard foul that didn’t warrant a
flagrant. He and Lin hugged after the game.

”He had a good game,” Chandler said. ”He had a good game the
other night. He’s a good player. He’s going to have some nights,
but I thought we could have took away a lot of his easy baskets,
him and James Harden.”

J.R. Smith came off the bench to make all five shots and give
the Knicks a 31-29 after one. The Rockets scored the first 10 of
the second quarter, opening a 39-31 lead on Lin’s 3-pointer with
9:26 left in the half. Houston scored the final six of the half,
turning an eight-point lead into a 56-42 cushion.

NOTES: Stoudemire is working out with the D-League team because
the Knicks are not expected to do much running at practice Tuesday.
They haven’t held a formal practice since Dec. 4. ”It seems
strange but we have a stretch right now where we’re playing every
other day and it’s hard to play a game and then think you can come
in and drill these guys,” Woodson said. ”I like to practice,
that’s where I feel like you learn a lot and stay sharp in terms of
your defensive rotations, but I can’t run them in practice and
expect them to come back and play the next day and then practice
again. There’s just too many games coming at us right now.”