Jeremy Lin

Stat Guy: Shortened NBA Season has set the stage for an exciting second half

Courtney Lee slams the ball against the Toronto Raptors. Lee and the Rockets are relying on their youth to help them navigate the second half of thus shortened season.
Courtney Lee slams the ball against the Toronto Raptors. Lee and the Rockets are relying on their youth to help them navigate the second half of thus shortened season.

Now that the farce that the NBA calls the All Star Game is over( 88 points in a half, seriously?), basketball teams can look forward to the games finally counting as they push for division championships and playoff positions.

We’ll go ahead and get this one out of the way: there will be no mention of that phrase which has gone from quaint to cliché so fast, it made Tim Tebow’s head spin.

The New York Knicks were the talk of the NBA heading into the All Star break thanks to their resurgence at the hands of Jeremy Lin. Having lost two three point games in a row to the Bulls and Celtics, the Knicks turned to Lin and the rest was history. Seven straight wins later, and the Knicks were back in the playoff hunt.

New York Still has its flaws though. Lin can’t stop giving the ball to the other team with eight games with at least six turnovers. He was also held to eight points on one for 11 shooting against the athletic Heat. Five of the Knicks wins in the last 12 came against teams in the bottom quarter of the league, and played the Nets twice. Now the Knicks have an 11 game stretch starting on Sunday that features five roads games against teams with 20+ wins. If the Knicks really are a new team under Lin, the three weeks will prove it.

There are three teams sharing the title of top team in the league. Miami, Chicago and Oklahoma City all sit even with each other at the summit which shouldn’t surprise anyone. The next few teams in the standings might though. San Antonio, which is frequently written off as old have quietly made their way to the top spot in the division, and second in the west. Philadelphia and Indiana have also come out of nowhere to be in the top eight in the league, with the 76ers leading Atlantic division in the East. And Orlando, amid all the talk of Howard shopping his services elsewhere, is second only to Miami in the Southeast division.

With the exception of San Antonio, who is uncharacteristically offensive this season, each of those teams is a top ten defensive team. Philadelphia leads the NBA in defense, holding teams to 87 points per game.

Meanwhile, traditional powerhouses like Los Angeles(Lakers), Dallas, and Boston have been unable to find the same fountain of youth that San Antonio has. Through 35 games last year, Dallas was 24-9, five games over its record this season. The Lakers were three games better last season through 24 games. Boston has suffered the biggest drop off, going from 28-7, to being a game under .500 this season. If the season ended today, the Celtics would be the eighth seed in the East, going to Miami for their first round matchup.

More intriguing matchups exist in the west though. Houston would play host to Dallas in the 4-5 matchup right now. The Lakers would have to make the long trek to the Staples Center against the Clippers, where little brother would try to unseat big brother for supremacy in Las Angeles. And San Antonio would get the revenge series against Memphis, who bounced San Antonio from the playoffs in the first round last season.

Only two months remain of the regular season, with the playoffs looming in May. Teams such as Philadelphia, Indiana, Houston, and Las Angeles(Clippers) are taking advantage of the shortened season, and are letting their youth carry them to the top of the standings. And having finally had a break, the older teams now have a chance to turn the seasons around and make the necessary moves that veteran teams make. This NBA season is shorter than usual, but should make up for that with an exciting, and unpredictable finish.

Jeremy Lin's Magical Debut Week

In just one week, point guard Jeremy Lin went from the end of the Knicks bench to the main event at Madison Square Garden.

After the final buzzer sounded in the Knicks' game against the Los Angeles Lakers, the MSG crowd broke out an “MVP” chant. This time, the reaction wasn’t for Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant. Instead, it was the perfect ending to Jeremy Lin’s dream week.

"I feel like I'm in a dream right now," Lin said after his career high 38 points and 7 assists led the short-handed Knicks to victory over the Lakers. That performance was the high point for the Harvard graduate during a stellar debut week.

The Knicks season seemed to be in turmoil with leading scorer Carmelo Anthony going down with a strained right groin in the midst of a losing stretch. Knicks head coach Mike D'Antoni had to try something different after forward Amare Stoudemire took a leave of absence due to a family emergency. Then, Lin -- who was cut by two different teams in the preseason -- comes in.

Lin led the Knicks to a 4-0 record, averaging 27.3 points and eight assists, becoming the first player in NBA history to rack up at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his first four starts. Geared by national media coverage and social networking, “Linsanity” captivated the basketball world.

"I don't know what to tell you," Mike D'Antoni said. "I have never seen this. It is not often that a guy is going to play four games, the best you are going to see, and nobody knows who he is. That is hard to do."

Can Lin continue this high level of play at a consistent rate throughout this season? It depends on his ability to respond once defenses adapt to his style. Defenses will no longer be surprised by Lin’s savvy point guard play and will limit his strengths. Lin has established himself as a smart pick-and-roll player and team facilitator.

The next stage of Lin’s progress centers on his ability to coexist with returning superstar Carmelo Anthony. There is little doubt on whether he can play with Stoudemire because the forward had a flourishing career playing alongside a similar type of pick-and-roll point-guard in Steve Nash. Carmelo, on the other hand, has a league-wide reputation of being a ball-stopper on offense.

Despite his reputation, Anthony insists playing alongside Lin will be a great opportunity for both players.

"I know there's questions about, 'Can I fit in?' and stuff like that, but this is like a dream come true to me," Anthony said. "It takes some pressure off of me. I don't have to play point guard.”

Jeremy Lin’s outbreak seems to be more than just a media-centered one-week sensation. The undrafted second-year point guard has revived the Knicks' hopes after they initially squandered their preseason hype.

Jeremy Lin fades away against the Sacramento Kings Wednesday night.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Jeremy Lin put aside his record-setting scoring to hand out a career-best 13 assists, and the New York Knicks got back to .500 with their seventh straight victory, 100-85 over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.

Lin added 10 points, focusing more on his role as a distributor while others torched the Kings for 51 percent shooting. Landry Fields had 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Bill Walker and Steve Novak each chipped in 14 points.

Lin scored 136 points in his first five starts, most by any NBA player since the NBA merged with the ABA in 1976. His 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left Tuesday allowed the Knicks to pull out a 90-87 victory in a game they trailed nearly the whole way.

The Knicks (15-15) led this one almost throughout, evening their record for the first time since they were 6-6 after a loss to Oklahoma City on Jan. 14. They host hapless New Orleans on Friday, hoping All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony will return from a strained right groin.

The way Lin’s Knicks are playing, they can wait for him.

The reigning Eastern Conference player of the week played 26 minutes, grabbing a seat next to Anthony — and sharing a few laughs with the star forward — after checking out for good late in the third quarter.

Tyreke Evans scored 19 points for the Kings, who had won four in a row in New York. DeMarcus Cousins added 15 but shot only 7 of 18 and grabbed just four rebounds.

Already the NBA’s biggest story, Linsanity had peaked about 24 hours earlier with the former Harvard guard’s winner in Toronto. The shot was replayed on the overhead video board, triggering a huge ovation as if it had just happened live.

But Lin would have few other scoring highlights, taking only six shots.

Fans, quite a few wearing Lin’s jerseys or holding masks of his face, loved it anyway. They chanted “MVP! MVP!” as he was interviewed on the court after the game and held up signs such as ‘Lin Your Face,’ ‘Linderella,’ and — of course — ‘Marry Me Jeremy.’

“It’s crazy. Thank you for the energy as always,” he said to the crowd.

Lin played last season in Golden State for Kings coach Keith Smart, who praised Lin’s work ethic and attitude, but never imagined “the perfect storm” that would lead to these results.

“It’s good Monday morning quarterbacks are here now, but no one could have predicted this guy being this big in this place here,” Smart said.

Lin opened the game with a three-point play, giving him nine straight points dating to late Tuesday, but passed more than shot as the Knicks scored easily in the first half. Lin beat the defense with penetration and dishes to shooters, or by throwing lob passes over the top.

The Knicks led 25-17 after one quarter, then blew it open late in the second. Novak converted a four-point play, Lin hooked up with Fields for an alley-oop dunk, then made a free throw to cap a run of seven straight points and make it an 18-point game. The Knicks closed the scoring when Lin drove and threw a wraparound pass to Tyson Chandler for a dunk with 1.7 seconds left, extending it to 54-36.

Lin had six points and nine assists in the first half. He found Fields for a layup that made it a 25-point game early in the third, and the Knicks coasted from there.