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Steve Aschburner

Jeremy Lin
Despite his almost instant worldwide acclaim, Jeremy Lin has some proving to do.
Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images

Lin loopiness, Howard hype top second-half watch list


Posted Feb 28 2012 11:14AM

The evolution will be televised.

Everything Jeremy Lin does these days is digitized, videotaped, chronicled and scrutinized, so his ongoing evolution as an NBA player -- from fringe guy to sensational starter for the Knicks to his challenge now in adjusting to opponents' adjustments -- will be displayed for all the world to see. This is, after all, playing out in New York, where the media plays hype-and-seek whether others care to join in or not.

Had Lin exploded on the scene in Charlotte or Milwaukee, he would have created a buzz nationwide rather than a mania. And if he were facing a recalibration now, he, his team and his fans would deal with that at a relatively low wattage.

But because what Lin did he did for that team in Manhattan, it was blown up to the size of a Macy's parade balloon: Asian-American point guard from Harvard in an Underdog cape. Now if he falls -- and Deron Williams' intensity in pressuring Lin into a poor night, followed by Miami's clamping down Thursday, definitely let some air out of the balloon -- it figures to be further, with a bigger splat, because of where and for whom it is happening.

Sure enough, as All-Star Weekend began, someone asked Williams if Lin was overrated, though he hardly had been around long enough to be rated, period.

"I not going to use that word," the New Jersey point guard said. "I think everything is just under a microscope now because of how things have taken off at every game. I think he's had a solid 10 games. His story is amazing because you can say he would have been out of the league if he didn't play the way he did against us the first time, and his run has been great. ... So we'll see. I'm sure he's going to have a long career ahead of him now, and he gets to write his own story."

Lin's arc -- and the impact it has on the Knicks' playoff plans, coach Mike D'Antoni's job and the roles filled around him by Carmelo Anthony, Baron Davis and others -- rates as one of the NBA's biggest storylines of the 2011-12 season's second half. There are plenty, from Miami's status as the favorite to win the NBA title to Dwight Howard's future whereabouts (immediate vs. longer term) and the Lakers' fight-or-flight reaction to hard times.

What Lin is facing now is not unlike what a rookie pitcher or batter in baseball sees the proverbial second time through the league. He sneaks up on no one now.

Through his first 10 games as an NBA phenomenon, Lin averaged 24.6 points, 9.2 assists and 5.6 turnovers, excelling in the pick-and-roll and bringing D'Antoni's offensive schemes into focus. In the two games prior to the All-Star break, though, he averaged 12.5 points, 6.0 assists and 6.0 turnovers, while missing 15 of 22 shots.

Lin never asked for the hype and, to his credit, he isn't running from it now as some potholes and speed bumps appear. "Playing in New York," he said over the weekend in Orlando, "it's a big stage with a big fan base, and so there's a lot of media. In terms of platform and media, I think that's the best place to be, New York, just because they have it all. One thing I really do want to do is embrace that platform and to be able to use it in the right way, and use it positively and make sure that my message and the way that I live is in a way appropriate of a role model. So I'm thankful for that."

Even if he has a target painted on his back now by rival point guards, eager to show him up or at least not get shown up? "Oh, I'm not too worried about that," Lin said. "I think the difference between me last year and this year is that last year, I cared what everybody said. And this year, I don't really care what anybody says, except for my teammates and my coaches."

In other words, it's your Linsanity, so you deal with it. Lin has basketball games to win.

Here are other top storylines for the final two months of this truncated NBA regular season and, natch, the tournament that follows:

Where does Howard finish the season?

If he wanted to stay in Orlando, the All-Star center could have gotten the deal done long ago. Because he didn't -- and because his list of preferred destinations remains just three teams long (Nets, Mavericks, Lakers) -- there seems to be little drama for 26 franchises and hardly any upside for the Magic to keep him around. General manager Otis Smith's best move probably would be to take the best package of players and picks he can by the March 15 trade deadline. Then write off this season and use it to set up a revamping for 2012-13.

What move will the Lakers make?

It's hard to fathom this proud franchise not making a serious personnel change by the deadline as a way of beefing up around Kobe Bryant for another postseason run or two. The Lakers are hungry for a point guard, with Rajon Rondo maybe at the top of their list as an assassin/companion to Bryant. But Raymond Felton and Ramon Sessions have been mentioned too, to far less fanfare. The Howard possibility remains, but Orlando hasn't been wowed by what allegedly has been offered in return (Andrew Bynum, plus).

Who else might be packing?

The names mentioned most often as trade possibilities include New Orleans center Chris Kaman, Minnesota's Michael Beasley and, in a move that would be more benevolent than bottom-line by Phoenix, veteran guard Steve Nash, if the Suns were to send him to a contender.

Are the Clippers for real?

We might never know this season because of Chauncey Billups' torn Achilles tendon. But they could win the Pacific Division over their Staples Center arena-mates, a pretty good start toward a serious in-house rivalry.

Can San Antonio squeeze out a legit playoff run?

It didn't happen last year, and the key guys are a year older. But coach Gregg Popovich has that to learn from and more young pieces to lean on in spotting Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili where they'll be most effective and most fresh.

Is Richard Hamilton going to stand up in Chicago?

Without falling back down, that is. Hamilton is fast approaching bust status -- remember, he was guaranteed another $5 million next season, too -- as the offensive boost supposedly procured to help Derrick Rose. He has played only 11 games, due to two different injuries, and coming after his funky lost season in Detroit in 2010-11, you have to wonder how much he really has left.

Is the Celtics' window of opportunity half-open or half-broken?

Danny Ainge might be looking to break things up, dreading the getting-old-together fate of the 1980s Celtics' teams on which he played. But the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce might still think they're capable of a push to the East Finals. Boston needs to go one way or the other, but playing out the final two months as a former threat won't make any of them happy.

Can the Sixers get their mojo back?

Or more accurately, their offense? Scoring has become difficult for this team, which can't kumbaya its way past many opponents with the limited production it has been getting at shooting guard and with defenses choking off Lou Williams.

Which awards remain in play?

At this point, it feels as if LeBron James (MVP), Howard (Defensive Player) and Oklahoma City's James Harden (Sixth Man) have those postseason awards locked up. But there's still some play in the Rooke of the Year action, if Minnesota's Ricky Rubio can press Cleveland's Kyrie Irving. If Lin makes the necessary adjustments, he might wind up as favorite for Most Improved. And the Coach of the Year field remains wide open, if only because so many different voters go by different definitions of that award.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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