By DAN KELLY
Special to ZAGSBLOG
NEW YORK — Linsanity will return to Madison Square Garden.
But only for one night.
Last season Jeremy Lin became an international basketball sensation when he emerged from seemingly nowhere to breath life into a Knicks team that was stumbling out of the gate.
The Knicks were 8-15 before Lin took over the point guard duties and led the team to seven straight wins and 16 victories in the next 25 games. The gutsy and improbable performance of an Asian-American who attended Harvard became known as “Linsanity” and won the collective heart of New York City and captured the world’s attention.
But after initially saying they would “absolutely” re-sign Lin as a restricted free agent during the offseason, the Knicks ultimately refused to match the poison-pill, backloaded $25.1 million offer the Houston Rockets made and Linsanity headed to the Western Conference.
Now he will make his his first appearance as a Rocket when Houston (11-12) visits the Knicks (18-5) — owners of a perfect 10-0 home mark — on Monday night.
“What Jeremy did last year was great,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler said Saturday after the team’s 103-102 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. “He brought a lot of excitement to the city. A lot of excitement to the fans of New York…I had lot of fun playing with him. But he’s on the other side now and he has to pay for that.”
Raymond Felton walked into a difficult situation when he joined the Knicks following Lin’s unpopular exit. But through 23 games Felton is outperforming Lin in several notable categories: Felton is 10th in the NBA in assists per game, Lin is 19th. Felton is scoring 19 points per game on 40 percent shooting from the floor and 39 percent from 3-point range. Lin is scoring 11 points per game on 39 percent shooting from the floor and 31 percent rom beyond the arc.
After exploding for a career-high tying 38 points in a Dec. 10 loss to San Antonio — in a game that James Harden missed with an ankle injury — Lin has averaged just 7.3 points in his last three games.
“I’m happy for him,” Felton said. “He got his money. He’s in Houston. He’s the starting point guard in Houston…I wasn’t coming in here trying to be him or anybody…What he did was amazing… I was watching him every game. He was hitting game winners, he was doing all that, it was amazing. But, you know, it’s time to move on.”
When asked what kind of reception Lin should get, Felton was adamant.
“The fans should give him a standing ovation when he comes back here, without a doubt,” Felton said. “He deserves nothing but that.”
Once Lin departed, coach Mike Woodson handed the offense over to Carmelo Anthony, who has emerged as an MVP candidate and could return to action Monday after missing the Cavaliers game with a sprained left ankle.
With Anthony playing at the highest level of his career, and Felton and Jason Kidd running the point, the Knicks are 10-0 at Madison Square Garden this season and 21-1 at home under Woodson dating back to last season.
When the Rockets come to New York on Monday there will be a little more excitement than usual in the stands but the Knicks will be all business.
Felton ended his conversation with the media with a prediction, “We going to protect our house. We’re going to be 11-0 after that game.”
Dan Kelly covers the Knicks, Nets and college basketball for brooklynfans.com. He has coached select teams, high school teams and individual players on the West Coast and in South America.