It’s since turned into “Linsanity.”
Stoudemire returns to the lineup Tuesday night for the Knicks, who hope to make it six straight wins when they face the struggling Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre.
Stoudemire spent the last week grieving the death of his older brother, Hazell, who was killed in a car crash. The star forward missed four games after scoring 17 points in a 99-92 win over New Jersey on Feb. 4, just the Knicks’ third in 14 games.
That victory, however, has spurred a turnaround for New York (13-15) with Lin as the center piece. He emerged from the bench to score 25 points with seven assists against the Nets, a performance that prompted coach Mike D’Antoni to insert him into the lineup as the starting point guard.
Since then, it’s been nothing short of hoopla, dubbed “Linsanity.”
Lin, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, is averaging 26.8 points and 8.0 assists while leading the Knicks to five consecutive wins, their longest since a seven-game run from March 28-April 10. That’s a colossal difference from Lin’s 3.6 points per game and 1.9 assists in his first nine contests with New York, making him a bona fide fan favorite and national curiosity.
Now, there are growing questions of whether the Knicks’ budding star will be able to produce upon the returns of Stoudemire and - especially - the injured Carmelo Anthony (groin).
D’Antoni calls the talk “ludicrous,” and said Lin has given the Knicks a “spirit” and a “swagger” that they were lacking.
“You go into every game thinking you’re going to win, and it changes everybody’s mood,” said D’Antoni, whose job was rumored to be on the line before Lin’s breakout week.
Lin came up big again Saturday, drawing a foul and hitting a free throw with 5 seconds to go to put New York up for good in a 100-98 win at Minnesota. While Lin finished with 20 points and eight assists, he got considerable help from Iman Shumpert’s 20 points and 19 from Landry Fields.
“It’s been unbelievable,” center Tyson Chandler said. “He’s really changed the mindset and mentality of this team.”
With Stoudemire back and Lin proving he can carry the load, the Knicks are staring at a chance to go back above .500 for the first time since they were 6-5 following a loss at Memphis on Jan. 12. Their next three games are against teams with losing records, hosting Sacramento on Wednesday and New Orleans on Friday after their visit to Toronto (9-20).
Stoudemire is averaging 29.3 points and 12.0 rebounds in his last three games against the Raptors. He missed the most recent matchup on Jan. 2 due to an ankle injury, and Lin didn’t get off the bench in a 90-85 home loss.
New York has won its last two games at Toronto.
The Raptors have dropped two of the first three games on their seven-game homestand, falling 94-92 to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
Jose Calderon will likely find himself matched up against Lin at the point, and he’s hoping to build on his own dazzling performance. The guard had a career-high 30 points and six assists while hitting 13 of 18 from the field, including all four 3-pointers, against the Lakers.
He’s averaging 13.2 points in 12 home games, but was limited to nine while dishing out 12 assists against the Knicks last month.
DeMar DeRozan had 21 points in that meeting after scoring 36 in a 131-118 loss in New York on April 5.