MIAMI – When it was all over, when the worst game of his young NBA career had ended and all the media questions had stopped, Jeremy Lin walked to his luggage in the visiting locker room and let out a deep sigh. New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler, sensing the need to lend some perspective, sidled up to his teammate.
“We got a journey ahead,” Chandler said.
Lin instantly perked up. “It’s going to end well,” he told Chandler.
With that, Lin threw his backpack over his shoulder and pulled his suitcase – the one still emblazoned with a Golden State Warriors logo – toward the exit. On his way out, he walked past a TV cameraman wearing a black T-shirt that featured red letters spelling out the mantra sweeping through the NBA the last two weeks: “Linsanity.”
Time will tell whether the journey ends well for Lin and the Knicks. After a wild three weeks in which he became the team’s starting point guard and captured the sporting world's imagination with his remarkable play, Lin was left to chew on some adversity as he walked out American Airlines Arena. The Miami Heat pressured him into his worst game, a 102-88 loss and an error-filled mess that left him with as many turnovers (eight) as points and just one basket for his 11 attempts.
“It’s hard to be Peter Pan every day,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said.
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Lin had barely made a misstep in his first three weeks as a Knicks starter, guiding New York to an 8-2 record while averaging 28.3 points and 9.4 assists. His rags-to-riches story – he was playing in the NBA's Developmental League just weeks earlier – has resonated with the public. Harvard graduate, undrafted after his college career ended, cut by the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, he's suddenly become the toast of Broadway. His jersey is the NBA's hottest seller, he's earned back-to-back Sports Illustrated covers and he's drawn praise from no less than President Obama.
Lin says he's enjoying the attention and hasn't been suffocated by the pressure. But when asked what's changed for him over the past month, Lin said, “What hasn’t changed? … You name it, it’s different.”
Lin didn’t even play a minute in the Knicks’ previous appearance in Miami this season, a 99-89 loss on Jan. 27. On Thursday, Knicks super fan Spike Lee greeted him with a hug as he walked onto the court. Heat officials said they handed out twice as many press credentials for the game than normal.
“It’s ‘Lin-sane,’ ” Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony said.
The Heat were likely snickering behind their locker-room doors at the attention Lin's received. The Heat own the Eastern Conference’s best record and boast three All-Stars in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And yet for one of the few times in the past two seasons, hardly anyone has been talking about them. The league's eyes have turned to Lin and the Knicks.
“The excitement is for everyone else,” Bosh said Thursday morning. “For us, it’s another game.”
It was easy to tell the Heat were intent on making life difficult for Lin. Barely two minutes into the game, point guard Mario Chalmers stripped the ball from him and banked in a layup. Chalmers and backup point guard Norris Cole didn’t give Lin any room, guarding him full court and challenging him to dribble with his weak left hand.
At one point, a Heat fan taunted Lin as he shot free throws, chanting, “Overrated.”
“Our point guards take the challenge personally against any point guard,” James said. “When they go out there they want to make a statement.”
Said Lin: “They did a great job of making me uncomfortable.”
While Lin tried to stay positive speaking with the media, Anthony said he could tell in the locker room that the loss had worn on him.
“We saw him over there a little bit, his head was down,” Anthony said. “We all went up to him and said, ‘Cheer up man. We have nights like this. You’re going to have nights like this playing against one of the best teams in the NBA, if not the best team in the NBA. They really focused in on trying to stop you tonight. You’re in the scouting report now.’
“He laughed about it. We’re going to have fun and we want him to continue to have fun, too.”
For Lin, the journey continues.
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