HOUSTON – The weight of the "Linsanity" monster has been too heavy to bear for Jeremy Lin thus far as a Houston Rocket. But on Friday, Lin's teammates lessened the stress of it all for at least one night as Houston rolled to a 131-103 victory in Lin's first game against the New York Knicks since departing Manhattan for a big paycheck this past summer.
Lin was the Rockets' fourth-leading scorer Friday with 13 points and shot 50 percent from the field for just the second time in 13 games.
"Obviously, no one wants to play the way I started the season," Lin said. "But that is the reality of the situation. And now it's about forgetting about the past and moving forward."
Lin's memorable run last season with New York – a 12-game stretch before the All-Star break where he averaged 22.6 points and 8.7 assists – is hard to shake, especially since it helped land a three-year, $25 million deal with Houston. The unrealistic expectation for Lin is to play like that superstar he was with the Knicks. Reality has him averaging 10.2 points on 34.8 percent shooting from the field for the up and down Rockets (6-7).
Remember when Lin scored 38 points against the Los Angeles Lakers last season? Well, he hasn't eclipsed 21 this season.
"I'm not looking to re-create what happened in New York," Lin said. "I want to be a consistent player. I want to get better. I don't know what my potential is. I don't know if I can play better than that one-week stretch. But I'm going to find out to see how close I can get."
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Living up to the Linsanity hype and recovering from knee surgery got to Lin early in Rockets training camp, sources close to the team said. The late addition of James Harden didn't ease things either. Sources said reserve guard Shaun Livingston often outplayed Lin in October. Sensing Livingston might get waived at the end of camp due to financial concerns, several Rockets players and coaches pleaded with management to keep him. A point guard controversy could've arrived if Livingston stuck around, but he was waived Oct. 29.
Houston desperately needs a point guard. Lin, however, has a score-first mentality and is very much a work in progress at floor general. Lin made his name with the Knicks by scoring, not making anyone better. He is averaging a team-high 6.1 assists per game which ranked 19th in the NBA entering Friday. He had three against the Knicks.
Harden says Lin is putting "a little too much" pressure on himself. The Knicks' Carmelo Anthony disagrees.
"I don't think he is playing with any pressure at all," Anthony said. "All the pressure was with him being in New York.
"A guy like Harden and [Chandler] Parsons take pressure off of Jeremy."
Parsons lit up the Knicks with a career-high 31 points Friday, while Harden led the team with 33.
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He is the last one introduced in the starting lineup, promoted the strongest and is averaging a team-best 25.2 points per game, early proof that he's worth his $80 million contract. While Lin has an All-Star following on the road, Harden is the one with the ball in his hands the most now. He led the team in assists Friday with nine.
His advice for his teammate: "[Lin] has just got to play basketball. Whenever he is open, shoot the ball. Whenever he has an opportunity to attack, make a play for somebody."
Lin exchanged warm greetings with Anthony and Tyson Chandler prior to tip-off and went to the New York bench to shake hands with coach Mike Woodson. Once the game started, Lin appeared relaxed, scoring on a lay-up quickly.
The pressure will get stronger when Lin returns to New York on Dec. 17. But where it could be the biggest headache is during All-Star weekend in Houston, where he will likely get voted in as a starting guard over Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Steve Nash thanks to heavy support from Chinese voters. There is no way the host Rockets and the always globally conscious NBA would let him turn the roster spot down.
The Linsanity monster won't die, but it can be tamed.
"I'm thankful that today was a step in the right direction," Lin said. "I'm glad I was able to move in that direction and I still have a ways to go. I think I'm capable of a lot more. I'm definitely happy with the way I'm progressing, the way my body is progressing and my team, too."
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