On Jeremy Lin this much is certain: The consequence of his stunning rise will include facing the absolute best from almost every team the New York Knicks play.
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I believe Lin is, if not an elite player, at least a sure NBA starter and sometimes star. I believe he is more than a flash in the pan. He has shown his worth and his promise since bursting onto the scene last month, and to think he will fade as abruptly as he rose is absurd.
But, to be sure, he has also shown an at-times unsettling ability to bring out the wrath of star players for which he had no answer. And against a star-studded team like the Heat on Feb. 23, Lin gave a basketball clinic on how to be swallowed whole.
This is the confounding part of Linsanity and a fascinating factor surrounding Tuesday night’s Knicks-Mavericks game. Jeremy Lin is both a budding star and an unlikely agent of change bringing out the most ferocious aspects of the teams he’s facing.
It’s similar to what the Heat experienced last year. Only Jeremy Lin is not LeBron James, and the New York Knicks, come what may, can not match Miami’s talent.
Since breaking out against Deron Williams and the New Jersey Nets one month ago, the Knicks have gone 10-4 and emerged as a legitimate playoff contender. But they’re also 3-4 since their Lin-inspired seven-game winning streak came to an end Feb. 17.
The difficult fact for Lin supporters and for Lin doubters is that during that sub-.500 stretch Lin has alternated between being excellent and utterly overmatched. He led New York to a win over the red-hot and defending-champion Dallas Mavericks but could not stop his team from losing to lowly New Orleans and New Jersey. He was totally humiliated against the Heat, shooting just 1-11 and coughing up eight turnovers.
And Tuesday night, against Dallas, the defending champions will have a chance to do what D-Will did his second time around: Exact a healthy dose of revenge on the upstart hogging all the attention and embarrassing teams and superstars that have long memories.
That’s the Catch-22 of what Lin has created. He certainly has the talent, the team and the system to live up to the status of a sometimes star in the NBA, and perhaps be much more than even that fine accomplishment. But the question is whether he can live up to Linsanity itself and its unforeseen consequences.
Those consequences took their harshest form in the Heat’s beatdown of not just Lin and his team but of the Linsanity myth that was being built around his joyful, incredible story. Lin looked so out of his element in Miami it was physically painful to watch. Trust me. I was there.
Then, this past Sunday, Rajon Rondo channeled that same fury. He had a game for the ages and a stat line worthy of Magic or Oscar: 18 points, 20 assists and 17 rebounds. Lin had an awful first half and some late-game heroics, but it was what he brought out in Rondo that speaks as much to his impact on the Knicks as his own play.
D-Will’s revenge a few weeks earlier came in the form of 38 points, an almost paltry attempt at retribution by the standards set by those who have followed him.
Still, after the game, Williams made no secret that he had a hunger to show what he had against Lin.
“When somebody says they destroyed you, and you watch the tape and you don’t feel like you got destroyed, you circle those games,” Williams said. “I took offense.”
Of course. Everyone’s taken offense. This is a league of hungry competitors during a golden age at point guard. Linsanity, of course, had to have an equal and opposite effect on both Lin and the Knicks. Williams simply gave voice to it.
The Heat were more respectful with their words, but Miami’s play — particularly Mario Chalmers’ fierce defensive hunger — showed the team’s true colors. Same for Rondo. Same, surely, for Dallas come Tuesday night. Everyone wants blood here.
As much as Linsanity drew eyeballs, electrified New York and inspired underdogs everywhere, it drew the penetrating attention of the rest of the league. This is a dog-eat-dog league. Glory comes with a cost. Which means that much glory going that quickly to someone previously so anonymous will be particularly expensive.
The price is a team like the Knicks, who are not nearly as talented as the Miami Heat, getting night in and night out the same kind of effort as the Heat did last season. Even the Cleveland Cavaliers brought an inspired effort against the Knicks last week, scoring a season-high 61 first-half points.
That Lin sparked a comeback against the Cavaliers in the second half Feb. 29 after being down 17 is as relevant to his narrative as the fact his team was down 17 points to Cleveland in the first place.
Lin is for real. But so is what Linsanity means for him and his team.
They have the tools to be a very good basketball team, and their stars — particularly Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire — must play like stars to meet what’s to come. Tyson Chandler is a defensive monster and the most efficient player in the league.
But the Knicks also have Jeremy Lin. And that means, as much as they get his heroic grit (he has it) and serious skill (has that too), they also get the best shot everyone has to offer.
There are consequences to success, and those consequences can be very difficult to live with. The Knicks’ success — not just success, but the level of attention and praise surrounding it — means they have a shot now to be great. But being great will require understanding that every team wants to break them, humiliate them, shove their glory and attention and Linsanity where it doesn’t belong.
The Law of Unintended Consequences has arrived for the Knicks very, very quickly. Jeremy Lin is here, and I think here to stay. But so is a level of competition few .500 teams have ever seen.
Jeremy Lin, then, can’t just be inspiring and excellent, and his teammates can’t just be pretty good. They have to be ready for war. Just like Linsanity, it’s not going anywhere until Lin is stopped in his tracks.