Jeremy Lin knows he would have been rusty and probably not in great shape if he tried to play for the New York Knicks in their playoff series against the Miami Heat.
While he could handle those things, what he could not handle was the unknown — that being how much his surgically repaired left knee could take if he tried to play too soon.
So with the Knicks having lost guards Baron Davis and Iman Shumpert to serious knee injuries already in this series — there is little chance Davis will play at all next season, and Shumpert’s availability for the start of next season would be considered highly doubtful at best — Lin erred on the side of caution by not rushing a comeback against the Heat, a move that risks neither his knee nor his earning potential this summer as a restricted free agent.
“I’m mostly worried about just not having to suffer a real setback, which would be a new knee injury,” Lin said on Wednesday morning in Miami, where the Knicks were preparing for a win-or-else Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Heat.
New York lost 106-94, ending their season.
The Knicks ended all questions about Lin’s status on Tuesday, when interim coach Mike Woodson said that the guard who exploded onto the NBA scene with a dazzling series of games in February would not play against the Heat, regardless of how long the series would last.
Lin has been trying to speed his recovery for a couple weeks, working out several times in Miami around Games 1 and 2, then trying to go through a full-speed workout earlier this week in New York. That one did not go well, with Lin — who thought there was a chance he could possibly play against Miami — saying afterward he felt pain and soreness in the knee.
“There was nothing to set it back,” Lin said. “I think to get from 85 percent to 100 percent takes more time than I may have thought.”
Lin’s story was quite probably the NBA’s most unexpected all season. He scored a total of 32 points in New York’s first 22 games, not getting any time in 13 of those and logging more than seven minutes only once.
His first breakout moment came on Feb. 4 at Madison Square Garden, coming off the bench to score 25 points in 36 minutes. Lin started New York’s next 25 games after that, scoring 161 points in his first six starts, including a 38-point effort — topping Kobe Bryant’s output that night by four — in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, then hitting the game-winning three-pointer on the Knicks’ final shot as they rallied past Toronto 90-87 on Feb. 14.
Linsanity was all the rage, though it quieted down considerably after the Heat held him to a one-for-11, eight-point night in the final game for both teams before the All-Star break. And the Lin buzz was then completely silenced by a cartilage tear a month later.
He has not played since.
Lin said some veterans have told him to be smart and not return until the knee is right, and Heat guard Dwyane Wade said he could understand why the Knicks and Lin would want to protect the future.
“Obviously, every player’s different,” Wade said on Wednesday before the game. “But when I think a player like him has a bright future, even though he probably can get out there and play, he’s not going to be as effective as he wants to be and he might do further damage. I thought that [Woodson] did a great job coming out and saying: ‘Listen, he’s not ready.’ Us as players, we always feel we’re ready.”