HOUSTON – In his wildest flights of fantasy, maybe this is the way Jeremy Lin might have hoped it could turn out.
There were fastbreaks leaving burnt-rubber tire tracks all over the court. There were 3-pointers raining down from the sky.
Oh, and there were the Knicks, his old team, running for cover.
But Lin’s Rockets had finally dropped the curtain on their 131-103 blockbuster show on Friday night, it was less about Linsanity and more about a third-year NBA player making steps in his progress.
Lin scored 13 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dealt three assists. Those were hardly the kind of eye-popping numbers that made him the darling of Madison Square Garden and world wide marketing phenomenon last February.
But for a guy playing his 13th game with a new team and in a whole different atmosphere, it was satisfying after the struggles he’s endured, not because it came against the Knicks.
“Not really,” Lin said. “The team is pretty different. Some guys are still there, but for the most part there are a lot of different guys. But it was good to just compete with some of my old friends.”
He exchanged a warm pregame embrace with the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony before the opening tip and Lin was greeted after the final horn sounded by Anthony and Iman Shumpert for a few more words of encouragement and friendships.
Away from the white-hot glare of New York, Lin isn’t living in the giant fishbowl and is no longer concerned with trying to live up to the level of last season’s “Linsanity.”
“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m not really too worried about it. I have a lot of people around me giving me a lot of perspective in terms of understanding where I am in my career and where we are in the season.
“It’s just about building, staying focused on what I need to do to get better every day.”
In shooting 6-for-12 from the field, Lin made half of his shots for only the second time all season. There were times when he drove the ball to the basket like the old days in New York. He even pulled up and stroked in a 3-pointer with a look of the old confidence.
But for the most part, he was not the one-man traveling carnival and road show of the New York experience. He was part of a young Rockets team that had a bust-out performance behind the leading efforts of James Harden (33 points) and Chandler Parsons (31).
“That team looked like they wanted to beat us,” said Knicks center Tyson Chandler. “I don’t think they were doing it for anybody. They came out ready to play. They kicked our butts for four quarters and they were better than us tonight.”
It was Anthony’s return to the lineup from injury last season that brought an end to the “Linsanity” and it was supposedly Anthony who didn’t want to share the spotlight or the ball with him.
“I don’t have no problem with him,” Anthony said. “That was my teammate. He’s a cool guy. I don’t have no problem with him as a person.
“I don’t think he’s playing with any pressure at all. All the pressure was when he was in New York. I don’t think he’s facing any pressure.”
Lin maintained that beating the Knicks held no special bit of significance.
“I would say moreso the fact that they’re playing so well. They’re an elite team and might be playing better than any team in the league,” he said. “So for us to be able to use this as a measuring stick to see where we are meant more than it being New York.
“I’m thankful that today was a step in the right direction. I’m glad I was able to move in that direction. I still have a ways to go. I think I’m capable of a lot more, but I’m definitely happy the way I’m progressing and the way my body’s progressing and the way our team is, too.”
Lin has struggled badly with his shot and had difficulty finding the rhythm that let him set the beat during that stunning and record-setting two-week stretch last February and he’s been hard on himself.
“It’s just part of it,” he said. “Obviously, no one ever wants to go and play the way that I started the season. But that’s the reality of the situation. Right now, it’s kinda just forgetting about the past and moving forward.
“I feel like I’m not like looking to recreate what happened in New York. I want to be a consistent player. I want to get better. I don’t know what my potential is and I don’t know if I can play any better than I did in that one-week stretch, but I’m gonna find out and see how close I can get.”