The Knicks Fix: Linsanity 2.0?
Saturday, February 25, 2017
By Alan Hahn
The hero emerges from the bench in Game 5 to lead the Knicks to a win. The series returns to Madison Square Garden, where a raucous crowd inspires the team to yet another victory to force a Game 7. Then, history is made -- and also repeated -- with an epic clincher down in Miami.
This is, certainly, how the Jeremy Lin movie would end if the season were scripted.
But while that show was a Broadway smash in February, it isn't likely to be revived in May. At least not by Wednesday's Game 5 in Miami, which was made necessary by a determined 89-87 win in Game 4 on Sunday at the Garden.
"I'm not counting on Jeremy Lin to play," interim coach Mike Woodson said during a conference call on Monday.
Lin, who had arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee on April 2, has been playing full-court three-on-three scrimmages for a week under close supervision of medical staffers and assistant coach Kenny Atkinson. Woodson has also monitored the workouts, which included head-to-head battles with Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby and also working with Amar'e Stoudemire in pick-and-roll situations.
The scrimmages also involved Lin fighting over screens set by big men Dan Gadzuric and Jerome Jordan.
The issue for Lin involves two factors: 1. He is experiencing a normal level of soreness after full-court workouts, which is to be expected just five weeks into a six-week recovery; 2. He is not exploding or moving freely, which is an indication that the knee is still on his mind when he plays. That is something he said he would want to be eliminated before he returns.
But with Baron Davis now out and the backcourt further depleted, there is now a greater focus on Lin making a return to the lineup sooner than expected. Some of this is on Lin, who created a stir after Game 1 when he suggested it was possible he could return as early as Game 4. Originally, the belief was that Lin would not be back on the court this season unless the Knicks made it into the second round.
[An update on Baron: His MRI revealed a ruptured ACL and MCL and a partial tear of the patella tendon. He will have surgery later this week, and recovery time is approximately 12 months. I'll say this about Baron, if he comes back from ruptured ACL/MCL at the age of 34 to play in the NBA, it would be amazing. Godspeed, Boom.]
Lin squelched that a few days later when he revealed soreness in his knee the day after an extensive workout and said Game 4 was unlikely. Carmelo Anthony downplayed any anticipation of a heroic return by Lin when, after Game 4, he said, "I look forward to having him back next year."
Earlier in the series said Lin shouldn't rush back. "I've seen situations like that before," he said. "I don't want him to rush it."
These kinds of remarks could get twisted. Melo has enjoyed being the focal point of the offense under Woodson and some might suggest that he'd prefer not to share the ball -- and the spotlight -- with Linsanity. But that would be sensationalistic. And, if you are privy to the truth, inaccurate.
Melo, like Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, sees a very important piece of the future of this team, which will not have a lot of options in the offseason to improve the roster. This team will already start next season without half of its starting backcourt, Iman Shumpert. What no one wants to see is Lin suffering any kind of setback that will cause him to be anything less than 100 percent when training camp opens in October.
A small meniscus tear is considered minor, but it can lead to bigger problems if the knee isn't stable before it is pressed back into service. If the knee continues to deteriorate because of wear-and-tear without proper healing, it could, over time, lead to a chronic issue. What has to be determined here is that Lin would not be susceptible to weakening the joint by making a return earlier than prescribed.
This is why Woodson is right to not want to rush Lin back into the lineup until he is 100 percent ready to play. Despite the team's desperation in the backcourt, where veteran Mike Bibby will get the start and seldom-used Toney Douglas may see backup minutes -- there should be no internal pressure on the 23-year-old to play in Game 5 if he isn't ready.
"I would never put a player in that position and tell him that I think he should play," Woodson said, "especially after you've had an injury, because it's just not my place to do that.
"When a player comes to me and says, 'Hey coach, I'm ready to come back out on the floor in uniform and play,' then I'm going to play him. I expect you to play at a high level, even though you haven't played. If you tell me you're ready to play, then I expect you to play. It's not my decision to make. It's going to be up to Jeremy and medical to make that decision."
While elimination is at stake here for the Knicks, you can't ignore what's at stake for Lin financially. He will be a restricted free agent this summer and to try to come back before he's ready, and fail or, Heaven forbid, re-injure himself, would be detrimental to his market value come July. The Knicks will see what his value is if and when another team signs him to an offer sheet. (We have plenty of information on this front, but we'll save that for after the season is over).
But even with the blessing of the medical staff, even with Lin's announcement that he's ready and wants to help the Knicks attempt to get this series back to New York for a Game 6, Woodson, who has closely monitored Lin's workouts, sounded skeptical that Lin could hit the floor in Miami and make an impact in a playoff game, against one of the league's toughest defensive teams, after sitting out for five weeks.
"I've watched him shoot and run up and down, he's not in great shape and you know as well as I know, playoff basketball, you've got to be at an all-time high," Woodson said. "He hasn't played in a while. I don’t know if that’s going to be a determining factor with the doctors and the fact that he hasn’t played. I could say yes he looks good, but again, does he feel good? Do the doctors think that it's enough time? I can't make that decision."
One thing is for sure: only if Lin is available to play will we see him in uniform.
Woodson revealed that he mulled a plan to not just play Douglas in Game 4, but to start the third-year guard, who began the season as the starting point guard. The backcourt has been a major deficiency for the Knicks in this series and the loss of Davis makes matters even worse.
Woodson said Douglas "hasn't been forgotten" but the reason why he didn't play had to do with matchups. For instance, he might have gone to Douglas if rookie Norris Cole got into the game, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra left him on the bench in Game 4. The speedy, though erratic, Cole played just 3:42 in Game 3.
"The problem that we've had the last few games is they haven't played Cole," Woodson said. "When they go with the big lineup of Battier, Miller, LeBron and Bosh and another big, now, I come in with Bibby and Mike now has to guard Miller or he has to guard Battier.
"And that’s going to be the same situation with Toney. He's a little bit smaller than Bibby and Baron he would have to guard those guys and to me, that’s a bad matchup. That's why I might go big, just like they do. They're playing big, so I might go with JR and Melo at the one and see if we can get by a few minutes like that. It all depends on who they play if they come in with Cole, then that would be a better matchup for us with Toney on the ball with Cole bringing the ball up. Speed against speed."
It will be interesting to see how a big backcourt of JR Smith and Carmelo Anthony would look. Smith can handle the ball and is decent in pick-and-roll, but he is a gunner. Melo also has a score-first mentality, but he sees the floor better than his assists total suggests. This type of lineup would require Steve Novak at the small forward spot to spread the floor with Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler as pick-and-roll options.
Interesting look, for sure.
What's clear is that with Lin's effectiveness -- let alone availability -- still up for debate over the next 48 hours, the ball is now in the hands of 33-year-old Mike Bibby, who went to the NBA Finals with Miami last season. While that may be unsettling to most observers, Woodson seemed quite comfortable with it.
"I'm very comfortable with him," Woodson said. "Bibby's had a hell of a career in our league. He's run a lot of basketball teams and he's been pretty good at it. He's not as fast or crafty as he used to be, but he's still capable in short minutes of running a basketball team.
"Sometimes it doesn’t look pretty based on how he moves up and down the floor but defensive schemes he knows, and offensive sets he knows in terms of getting the ball where its got to go and he's still capable of hitting a big shot. So, yes, I do feel comfortable starting Bibby in a big game like that."
COACHING FOR A WIN, NOT A CONTRACT
The Game 4 win not only ended an 11-year, 13-game drought for the Knicks, it also snapped a seven-game playoff losing streak for Woodson. He was asked if he felt the win helped his cause toward becoming the full-time coach after this season.
"Right now it's not about my contract and where I go from here," Woodson said. "I was given an opportunity to coach this team. I'm still coaching this team, the job is not done and when that time comes I'm sure everybody will sit down and talk about my future but right now that's not my concern. My concern is Game 5 right now, trying to get these guys ready to play."