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John Schuhmann

With a tough schedule looming, Jeremy Lin and the Knicks anticipate the arrival of 'Melo and J.R. Smith.
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With winning streak over, Lin faces tough road ahead

Posted Feb 18 2012 1:16AM

NEW YORK -- Jeremy Lin's magical ride as the star of the hottest team in the NBA hit a speed bump Friday. A bump about nine turnovers high, as Lin and the New York Knicks saw their seven-game winning streak come to an end at the hands of the 7-23 New Orleans Hornets.

It would be too much to say the 89-85 defeat brought an end to the Linsanity. Really, we knew the winning streak had to end eventually. With the streak behind him, the hype surrounding Lin will certainly die down somewhat. But it's not like he's going to lose his appeal because he's not perfect. That was part of the appeal in the first place, wasn't it?

"I don't think this is good, because I hate losing," Lin said, before acknowledging that there may be a hidden benefit to a step backward. "It may help me, may help the team a little bit, in terms of just having everything off the court cool down for a little bit."

Looking at the big picture, though the streak ended in an ugly loss to a bad team, the Knicks are still in much better shape than they were two weeks ago. They have the point guard they've been looking for since waiving Chauncey Billups, and more important games lie ahead.

Beginning Sunday, as their schedule gets tougher, we're going to really see what Lin and the Knicks are made of. Three of their four games before the All-Star break come against teams with better records than any team they've faced since the Linsanity began.

In addition, the Knicks are about to undergo some chemistry-altering changes in their rotation.

Carmelo Anthony missed his sixth straight game with a strained groin on Friday, but worked out pre-game and could return on Sunday against Dallas. The Knicks also announced before the loss that they've signed J.R. Smith, who probably won't play until at least Wednesday. Baron Davis is getting closer (again) to finally making his New York debut, and rookie Josh Harrellson will return from a wrist injury after the break.

Anthony, Smith and Davis are three high-usage players to integrate into a team that has been clicking pretty well for two weeks now. And while Davis will provide help with the ball-handling, it will be up to Lin to keep everybody, including head coach Mike D'Antoni, happy.

"I don't think it will change from my standpoint, my approach to the game," Lin said. "I think I'm going to come with the same mentality to attack and be aggressive. I think I'll be able to run less pick-and-rolls and hopefully be more efficient. Obviously, it's always a good thing when you have more weapons, more play-makers."

"It's a great problem to have," D'Antoni added. "We've got a lot of depth. And if everybody keeps buying the way they've been doing, the chemistry will still be good."

Some may question Anthony's ability to get with the Lin-centered program, but offense isn't going to be the Knicks' primary concern when adding the high-usage trio. All three are defensive liabilities and will take playing time from some of guys - Landry Fields, Jared Jeffries and Iman Shumpert - that have helped the Knicks rank as a top-10 defensive team this season.

Of course, even with the addition of some potent offensive players, the Knicks will need Lin to cut down on his turnovers. He has now committed an astounding 45 in his seven starts.

"Nine turnovers [Friday] is obviously never going to get it done from your primary ball-handler," he admitted. "Everyone wants to credit me for this last seven games, and I definitely deserve this one on my shoulders. That's fine with me."

The Hornets defended Lin aggressively, constantly trying to get their hands on the ball when he put it on the floor. They did a decent job of cutting him off on pick-and-rolls (five of his eight field goals were jump shots), and forced him into bad decisions when he left his feet in the paint.

"I just told him he was trying to make the hardest pass out there," D'Antoni said. "He was trying make the home run pass. That'll happen for young guys. They collapse so much that he just has to kick. At the same time, we weren't making any outside shots, so they weren't coming out."

After eight turnovers in the first half, Lin settled down and committed just one in the final 24 minutes, almost pushing his team to another miraculous comeback. But the hole was too deep and the shooting (4-for-24 from 3-point range) was too poor.

"I need to just come out with more energy," Lin said. "I think, in the fourth quarter, when I attack and I'm stronger with the ball, usually I don't have as many turnovers."

No, Jeremy Lin isn't perfect. But he's helped his team work its way back from seven games under .500 and finally take advantage of a light schedule. And this loss isn't going to alter the course of the Knicks' season nearly as much as the first Lin-driven win did.

"He'll get through it," D'Antoni said of his point guard. "I don't think he expected to go without a defeat this year. I think he's fine."

The streak is over. And now we can find out just how good the Knicks are with Jeremy Lin running the show.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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