Knicks in no-Lin situation for playoffs

BY Sam Gardner • March 31, 2012

The Jeremy Lin Era arrived in a flash in New York, gripping a frenetic city and not letting go, as basketball's newest cult hero laid the foundation for a legacy at Madison Square Garden.

Now, just eight weeks after emerging as the NBA's hottest story, "Linsanity" is done for the season.

The Knicks announced Saturday that Lin, who had missed the last three games with a sore left knee, would undergo surgery to repair a "small, chronic meniscal tear" — a procedure expected to keep the point guard sidelined six weeks.

"It's disappointing for me," a dejected Lin, 23, said Saturday before the Knicks' 91-75 home win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"It's hard to watch the games. I want to be out there, obviously, more than anything. It's a six-week rehab process, but I tend to heal fast, so hopefully I can come back as soon as possible and still contribute this season."

But for the Knicks, even the most optimistic recovery time is about two weeks too long.

Because without Lin in the lineup, New York's playoff prospectus is as grim as it was before the benchwarming point guard out of Harvard took the city by storm — transforming a lottery-bound, 8-15 also-ran into a potential playoff dark horse.

The postseason is scheduled to start April 28, four weeks from now, and the Knicks should be in it — but barely, as the likely No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.

New York holds a 1 1/2-game lead on Milwaukee for the East's final spot with 12 games to play.

But with Lin out of the picture for at least the first round — and with the prognosis of Amar'e Stoudemire's balky back still not entirely clear — it's difficult to see New York posing even the remotest threat to the East's top seed, be it Chicago or Miami.

"This season's been — you talk about ups and downs — a lot of downs and a lot of ups," said Lin, who has averaged 14.6 points, 6.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game since taking over the starting point guard job in early February.

"At the end of the day, I'm still thankful to be here. I'm thankful to be part of the Knicks, to see this team, how we've grown. And we're going to make a push for the playoffs and hopefully go deep in the playoffs. As a team, we're doing OK, and we're going to be just fine."

Frankly, the Knicks should be grateful they've gotten this far. They have succeeded with an undrafted, twice-waived, D-Leauge point guard with no particularly exceptional skills at the helm while the team's top two stars — Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony — were sidelined.

Then they overcame the return of Anthony — who selfishly demanded the offense was run his way — and the resignation of coach Mike D'Antoni, whom Anthony stealthily ran out of town when D'Antoni insisted on making Linsanity work.

Through all of their ups and downs, the Knicks somehow found an excess of success with a dearth of talent.

But the magic could only last so long, and it seems New York is finally out of miracles.

"We've got to go on, but he's a big piece of our puzzle and what we've been doing as of late," interim head coach Mike Woodson said Saturday.

"All is not bad — we have three veteran point guards sitting over there — but we've just got to make do until he's able to get back in uniform. But it is a big blow."

In fact, it could hardly be a worse blow for the 27-27 Knicks, as their playoff hopes now rest in the shaky hands of aging point guards Baron Davis and Mike Bibby, out-of-position rookie Iman Shumpert and ineffective and little-used Toney Douglas.

"It [stinks], not being able to be out there with the team," Lin said. "(But) it is what it is."

Lin will be a free agent after the season, and said he hopes to return to New York — but otherwise wasn't thinking that far in the future.

''I'm not even worried about that right now,'' he said. ''It's not like a career-ending thing, or it's not something that will bother me. Once it's fixed, it's fixed. It's the most simple surgery you can have, and so I'm more concerned about the season.

"If this was done very early in the year, I don't know where my career would be. I would be definitely without a job and probably fighting for a summer-league spot.

"But having said that, this happening now, it hurts just as much because, all the players, we really put our heart and soul into the team and into the season.

"I think we're growing as a team, we're finding an identity. ... I think it's a process as far as reaching our potential."

Unfortunately for Lin, it's a process that — this year at least — won't get to play out in full.

Follow Sam Gardner on Twitter: @sam_gardner

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