A year after “Linsanity” gripped New York Knicks fans and propelled NBA break-out star Jeremy Lin to global fame, the modest point guard is enjoying a more subdued yet substantial role with playoff contenders Houston.
As the NBA heads into its mid-season All-Star break this weekend, the Rockets occupy the eighth spot in the Western Conference, with such perennial contenders as the Los Angeles Lakers in their rearview mirror.
Their last game before the break was a 106-96 thumping by the Los Angeles Clippers, and Lin said the team will need to win more consistently in the second half of the campaign to maintain their playoff position.
“I think we’re ahead of where we thought we were going to be,” Lin said.
“After seeing the potential of our team, we still feel like we’re underachieving in some sense. I think the second half we want to make sure we make a push at some point and just try to get a winning streak going,” he said.
The Rockets have had their share of adversity this season. They had to deal with the death of head coach Kevin McHale’s daughter Sasha, and first-round draft selection Royce White is being treated for an anxiety disorder and is currently assigned to the developmental league.
Lin has come under heavy scrutiny, in the wake of his sensational exploits in New York and after inking a three-year, US$25 million contract with the Rockets after the Knicks declined to match that offer.
Filling in on an injury-hit Knicks team last summer, the often passed-over reserve became the first player in NBA history to score at least 20 points and pass for seven assists in his first five starts.
He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People as even casual basketball fans found themselves charmed by his rags-to-riches story.
As the first Taiwanese-American to play in the NBA, Lin, whose parents are from Taiwan, became a global sensation.
A documentary of his rise was unveiled at the Sundance Film Festival last month, with Lin managing to put in an appearance at one screening.
Under McHale’s system, Lin’s numbers are more modest. He is averaging 12.6 points, six assists and 1.9 steals per game.
His ability to score takes some of the pressure off James Harden, who also arrived in Houston this season and has emerged as the Rockets’ top scorer.
Even so, Lin remains a focus of interest, particularly from Asian and Asian-American media and fans.
The Rockets’ recently concluded West Coast road trip included a victory at the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, across San Francisco Bay from his hometown of Palo Alto, California.
The Warriors — the first NBA team to sign Lin — timed their Asian Heritage Night festivities to coincide with the Rockets’ visit, and Lin drew another big contingent of Asian fans in Los Angeles the following night.
“It’s always a pleasure to be able to play in front of them, and be able to hear their applause and cheers,” Lin said.
However, he said he thinks he is lucky to have ended up in Houston, rather than among hometown fans at Golden State or in often frenetic New York.
“I think I’m in a good place where I can grow, and mature and get better as a player,” said Lin, whose new hometown fans will get a glimpse of him on All-Star Saturday in the Skills Challenge, one of the events slated for the eve of the All-Star Game proper which is at the Rockets’ arena this year.
“Houston is a nice change of pace for me,” Lin said.