Knicks lose Lin but beat Cavs; Kobe hits game winner; Chris Paul dominates Jazz

When Jeremy Lin sat out a playoff-implication game against Milwaukee due to a sore left knee on Monday, the absence was expected.

When he sat out again two days later against Orlando, there was cause for concern. As teammates said, Lin is not the type of player to sit out games unless it was something serious.

After avoiding the media prior to the game against the Hawks on Friday, it became clear something was amiss.

Then suddenly, at least for now, the sensation known as Linsanity ended the same way it started:  Shockingly, unexpectedly and out of nowhere.

The playoff hopes of the New York Knicks took a dive on Saturday night as news broke about Lin’s need for a surgical procedure to repair a slightly torn meniscus in his left knee which will sideline him for six weeks.

It had been a somber week for the hopeful point guard.

From Howard Beck of The New York Times: “The revelation of Lin’s injury came a week after he first complained of soreness in the knee, in a March 24 victory over Detroit. A magnetic resonance imaging test Monday showed what the team called a small, chronic tear — meaning the injury had been present for some time — and Lin sat out the next three games. The extent of the injury was not announced until Saturday, in the hope that Lin’s knee would respond to treatment and allow him to keep playing. But the pain persisted, and after testing the knee once more Saturday morning, Lin opted for immediate surgery. “I can’t really do much, can’t really cut or jump,” Lin said in a news conference. “So it’s pretty clear that I won’t be able to help the team unless I get this fixed right now. It’s disappointing for me; it’s hard to watch the games. And I think I want to be out there, obviously, more than anything, to help the team.” Assuming Lin does not return, the operation will represent a somber conclusion to a story that captivated the world and launched Linsanity.”

The loss of Lin means an adjusted style of play and an even greater emphasis on the need for a consistent defensive effort for the Knicks, who are now forced to start a banged-up Baron Davis for the remainder of the season.

From Jared Zwerling of ESPN New York: “The Knicks were just 8-15 prior to Feb. 4, when Linsanity broke out, but since then (entering Saturday) they’ve increased their offensive efficiency by nearly five points per 100 possessions, winning 18 of 29 games. Not only that, the Knicks have outscored their opponents by 144 points, with the cat quick Lin on the court (compared to the halfcourt-oriented Baron Davis, who’s a step slower). That offensive tempo slowed down when Lin missed three straight games with a sore left knee, as the Knicks only averaged 95.7 points per game. And that continued Saturday night against the Cavaliers, after news broke pregame that Lin would be out approximately six weeks with a small chronic meniscal tear in his left knee. The Knicks knocked off the Cavaliers 91-75, setting a season mark for the lowest points allowed in a game. Afterwards, Tyson Chandler said that without Lin pushing the pace and creating easier scoring opportunities for others, the team will need to place a greater emphasis on defense, so they can put points on the board generated more from stops and steals.”

Though highly unfortunate, Lin is lucky in the sense that the injury came after his memorable and historical run. It allowed the league to see the talents he possessed, which will easily translate to a stable contract come July. He is a restricted free agent and his heart sits with the first team that gave him a chance to play, but New York’s plan remains to be seen.

More from Isola: “Lin’s future is uncertain. He will be a free agent on July 1, and the coach he thrived under, Mike D’Antoni, was replaced by Woodson. In all likelihood, the Knicks, who have made a small fortune from Linsanity, will look to retain the Harvard graduate. However, they may also try to upgrade at the position and potentially look into signing free agent-to-be Steve Nash.  “I’m not even worried about that right now,” Lin said of his pending free agency. “It’s not like a career-ending thing, or it’s not something that will bother me. Once it’s fixed, it’s fixed. It’s the most simple surgery you can have. I’m more concerned about the season.” Lin, who was cut by the Warriors and Rockets in December and spent time in the D-League, also made it clear that he wants his future to be in the same place where his career really began.“Oh yeah, I think New York, the way the city, the fans, writers, the media, everybody, I think, it’s been an unbelievable journey,” Lin said. “I would love to keep this team together as long as we can, everybody, top to bottom, I think. we’re growing as a team, we’re finding an identity, we’re getting better. And we have so much potential, we have so much talent, and I think it’s a process in terms of reaching our potential.”

On the other side of the country, Kobe Bryant stunk up the court — missing his first 15 shots against the short-handed visiting Hornets — but saved the best for last when he hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 20 seconds left.

Afterward, there was concern of fatigue setting in on the aging superstar who has had a notable string of bad games — shooting better than 38% just twice in the last eight games.

From Mike Bresnahan of Los Angeles Times: “The Lakers couldn’t possibly be thrilled with beating the injury-ravaged New Orleans Hornets, though Kobe Bryant was laughing afterward. He was relieved his three-for-21 shooting effort didn’t cost his team a victory. The Lakers beat an NBA franchise Saturday, allegedly, their 88-85 victory reflected in the standings as such, though the Hornets were closer to Development League material. It made Bryant’s woes much more obvious. He set a slew of personal marks with his inaccuracy but made the go-ahead three-pointer with 20.2 seconds left, surprising almost nobody at Staples Center. He finished with 11 points against a team that had only eight healthy players and owned the worst record in the Western Conference. “Fatigue might have something to do with it …” Bryant said. Uh-oh, the dreaded F-word. Bryant, 33, leads the league in scoring but is third in minutes per game.”

Luckily, the rest of the Lakers starters all shot 50% or better to help keep the game close. Pau Gasol led the way with 21 points and 11 rebounds and Andrew Bynum added 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Later in the night, the Clippers took over the Staples Center and continued to roll with their fifth consecutive victory over the Jazz, flaming out the drama that surrounded Vinny Del Negro just a week ago.

Chris Paul suffered what appeared to be a stinger of his elbow, but never let it affect his play.

From Broderick Turner of Los Angeles Times: “Chris Paul, the Clippers’ leader and resident closer in tough games, suffered a bruised right elbow with 7 minutes 37 seconds left in the third quarter of their 105-96 victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night at Staples Center. After receiving medical attention while on the Clippers’ bench, Paul went to the locker room. Paul came back onto the court and took a seat on the bench with 11:16 left in the fourth quarter and the Clippers leading, 83-66. He reentered the game with 11 minutes left to an ovation. Paul wore a red sleeve on his right arm, matching one he wore on his left arm. You wouldn’t have known Paul was injured from the way he played. He finished with 26 points and six assists, pushing the Clippers to a season-high five-game winning streak. Because of Paul’s play, Griffin’s 24 points and Randy Foye’s 17 points, the Clippers had a strong conclusion to the month of March, which figured to be taxing physically and mentally, and possibly a defining month for their season.”

Elsewhere…

  • The Spurs are once again quietly piling up the wins as they won their seventh-straight game, defeating the visiting Pacers 112-103. Tim Duncan led all scorers with 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili chipped in with 18 points apiece. San Antonio continues to fight for the best record in the West as they trail the Thunder by 2 1/2 games.
  • Don’t look now, but the Nets are on a tear after winning their third consecutive game against the Kings 111-99. After putting up just one point in the previous game, Anthony Morrow scored a game-high 24 points including six 3-pointers. Deron Williams controlled the game with 19 points and 15 assists while Gerald Wallace added 18 points.
  • Philadelphia defeated Atlanta 95-90 in a close contest to stay within striking distance of Boston, which holds a 1/2 game lead in the Atlantic Division. Elton Brand was heroic, scoring 13 of his season-high 25 points in the fourth quarter. He also shot 10-of-12 and grabbed 10 rebounds while Andre Iguodala chipped in 18 points. The Hawks came up short despite 34 points, nine rebounds and five assists from Josh Smith and dropped 1/2 game below the Pacers.
  • With point guard Mike Conley (ankle) sidelined, O.J. Mayo stepped up with a season-high 24 points to help the Grizzlies defeat the Bucks 99-95 on the road. Marc Gasol led three players in double-digit rebounds with 15 while adding 13 points and Rudy Gay added 17 points. Milwaukee had three players with 20 points or more, but fell back to 2 1/2 games behind the Knicks.
  • Two teams playing for ping-pong balls collided as Detroit rallied to defeat the Bobcats in overtime, 110-107. Tayshaun Prince had 24 points, nine rebounds and four assists but it was Will Bynum who helped erase an eight point deficit in the fourth quarter with 17 points off the bench. Byron Mullens led six scorers in double figures with 20 points as he took the starting job over an ineffective Tyrus Thomas.

James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. Follow him on twitter.

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