One loss shouldn't derail Linsanity

Well, that was sobering.

Jeremy Lin coughed up nine turnovers, including eight in an atrocious first half Friday night. The Knicks went 4-for-24 from the 3-point arc, including 2-of-19 for those players not named Jeremy Lin. And the lowly and dinged-up New Orleans Hornets put a stop to New York's seven-game winning streak with an ugly 89-85 win.

It was not a great night for the Knicks, for Linsanity or for all those rabid fans fervently hoping Lin is indeed that answer to years of New York basketball failure rather than a short and painful ruse.

So, yes, it was a rough night for Linmania. It was also a night to be expected.

New York, take a deep breath and relax. America, hold your natural tendency to tear down even more viciously and more quickly those you just spent a lot of energy and time building up. And, first and foremost, Jeremy Lin, don't worry.

Not yet.

"I definitely deserve this one on my shoulders," he said.

Well, not entirely, which is one reason this is not the time to start second guessing the magic we've seen from Lin. If the time to really doubt arrives, and it may, it won't come with Carmelo Anthony still out, it won't come on the first loss after a seven-game winning streak that turned around a season and it won't come against a Hornets team that was more overlooked than overly tough to beat.

Friday night was the ultimate trap game for Lin and his team.

Among the reasons the Knicks might not have been as focused Friday night as they could have been: The Hornets, now at 7-23, do not exactly strike fear into the hearts of men, particularly with Eric Gordon, Emeka Okafor and Jason Smith out with injuries. Melo is returning, most likely Sunday. J.R. Smith will come on board Sunday as well. Oh, yeah, and the Dallas Mavericks -- a real test -- will be here as well.

Lin's line reflected just what he was Friday night -- a talented point guard who is still learning and who probably was looking forward rather than at the task at hand. He had 26 points, four steals, five assists and those nine turnovers in a game that highlighted both his flaws and his still-franchise-changing potential.

"I need to just come out with more energy," he said. "I think in the fourth quarter, when I attack, I'm stronger with the ball, and usually I don't have as many turnovers in the fourth quarter as I do early in the game. Being patient, also, and reading the defense -- I think that's something I struggle with and really need to take a look at now."

Indeed so. But this, too, needs to be addressed. The New York Knicks need Smith, who signed Friday and is expected to arrive in New York City on Saturday night. They need Anthony, too, regardless of all the doomsday scenarios that foresee Melo becoming a black hole not just for the ball but also for that weird alchemy that's turned Lin into a blossoming star.

Yes, in these past few games minus Melo and until recently Amar'e Stoudemire, Lin marshaled not just his own hidden talents but those of his teammates and turned the wobbling Knicks into a playoff-caliber team.

But the team has all along been relying too much on Lin's out-of-nowhere talents and buzz and the hope they produced. During the winning streak, New York scored more than 100 points only once, not exactly the hallmark of a firing-on-all-cylinders Mike D'Antoni team. They've also played only one winning team, the Lakers, a squad that is a much easier challenge on the road than at home.

There has been much, much hand wringing on whether Melo will destroy the delicate ecosystem from which Lin has emerged. Let's give that crap a rest until the guy gives us an actual, definitive reason to wring our hands for real.

It's the LeBron factor: You don't criticize the guy before The Decision, the arrogance, the Finals debacle. You do it afterward. You do it when the fact warrants the grief.

That's the line between candor and BS: The thing has to happen first.

Melo hasn't done a damn thing to hinder Lin, not yet, not in a single way. The outcry after Melo said Lin was their Rudy was so baseless and desperate that it's hardly worth mentioning.

If he pull a LeBron and offers up concrete reasons to unload -- if he changes how this Lin experiment works, if he can't share the ball, if he says the right things in the locker room but does the wrong ones on the floor -- we can all unload. I assure you I'll be lining up with everyone else.

But not yet. Not now. Let's see what he's got once he and Lin play together.

As for Lin, there certainly were signs of trouble in his play against New Orleans. There also were flashes of excellence, again and again, that seemed, despite his nine turnovers and poor shooting night, to demonstrate even more convincingly that he indeed is a real talent unfolding before us.

The Hornets had led the entire game, including by as many as 13 points as the third quarter neared its end, and it seemed certain New York had little chance. And then the Knicks pushed for another comeback in the fourth quarter because Lin weaved more of his magic.

Managing to shake off his eight first-quarter turnovers, Lin played much better going forward, particularly in the fourth, when he scored eight of his 26. He looked like a winner almost every step of the way.

He hit a huge jumper to cut the Hornets' lead to three with less than five minutes left. He missed a few shots but then scored with 1:52 to again cut the lead to three and then, with 1:10 left and New Orleans up by four, somehow managed to steal the ball, drive, get fouled and make two free throws.

"I just told him he was trying to make the hardest pass out there, trying to make the home-run pass," D'Antoni said. "That'll happen for younger guys. He'll learn. He'll get through it."

D'Antoni probably is right. Lin probably will learn. He probably will get through it.

Either way, for now, it's enough to know that Carmelo Anthony should be back Sunday, that J.R. Smith has been added to this team's rapidly expanding arsenal, and that Lin no longer will have to carry an entire team mostly by himself.

The past few weeks were Linsanity. Friday was a letdown for a player and a team looking forward and probably due for a stumble. And starting Sunday, if Melo does play, we'll get a look at the New York Knicks at full strength.

Then, and only then, will we start to be able to take stock of Lin, Melo, Amar'e and the rest of this team. Then and only then will we begin to find out just what Lin's arrival means for New York, the Knicks and the NBA.

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