- Johnette Howard, ESPN Staff Writer
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If you've been walking around New York lately and it feels like tectonic plates are shifting, it's probably not the subway rumbling beneath your feet, for a change.
The sports gods are back to smiling on the local teams. Just look around. Take inventory. The magic is back.
Then Linsanity came from nowhere. It mushroomed so out of control, a fellow reporter told me that when Knicks overnight sensation Jeremy Lin drilled a 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left to beat Toronto on Tuesday night, fans in the Manhattan bar where he was watching the game literally shrieked and bobbed around, hugging each other as if the Knicks had just won the NBA title. And soon there was an even funnier reaction shown on TV.
The Lakers -- whom Lin had torched for 38 points just days earlier -- were watching the Knicks game live, and a roar went up in their locker room when Lin hit his shot. Lakers swingman Metta World Peace (the artist formerly known as Ron Artest from Queens) started running around shouting, "LINSANITY! LINSANITY!"
February is barely half over and what a sports month it's already been.
Lin has blown up into worldwide news but, paradoxically, New York itself suddenly seems like a small town caught up in the biggest high school sports pep rally imaginable. And we haven't even mentioned that the first-place Rangers continue to look like bona fide Stanley Cup challengers, and the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets are still on Dwight Howard's short list of teams he wants to be traded to -- now, if not sooner.
Coach Mike D'Antoni began this season touting his Knicks as title contenders, even before they picked up Baron Davis or added former Denver shooting guard J.R. Smith on Friday. But maybe he should take a cue from Rangers coach John Tortorella, now that expectations have skyrocketed so high and fans are asking just how far the Knicks and Lin can go.
Weeks ago, when Tortorella was told that Rangers/Knicks owner James Dolan had said the Rangers could win the Cup, the coach growled, "Don't give me that BS." And his players have played as if they're trying to prove him wrong ever since.
The Knicks have to show more to be title contenders. They're still only 15-16 and barely clinging to a playoff spot slot in the Eastern Conference standings, though Lin sparked them to seven wins in their past eight games.
Sunday's visit from the defending champion Dallas Mavericks will be the best yardstick yet of how much the Knicks have improved. Carmelo Anthony should return from a groin injury soon. Smith should be available by midweek. And Davis' season debut isn't far off.
Lin kept the mania rolling Wednesday by finishing with a career-high 13 assists in a 100-85 romp over Sacramento. His nine turnovers overshadowed the 26 points he had in Friday's 89-85 loss to New Orleans. But he still had his moments.
Lin is so good at getting teammates open looks, it may not be long before there's a new column in the box score for how many alley-ops he throws. The Clippers aren't the only NBA team thriving thanks to a new playmaker. The Knicks made 10 of their first 12 shots against Sacramento, many of them on easy dunks that Lin's passes set up, and D'Antoni is back to looking like an offensive genius now that he finally has a point guard who can, you know, actually run the offense.
Lin makes the whole team actually play like a well-oiled machine. And how long has it been since the constantly under-construction Knicks could say even that?
The Knicks' front office deserves some huge props on two fronts for this.
Interim general manager Glen Grunwald, who normally operates under a Dolan-issued gag order, was actually allowed to speak to the press Friday after the Knicks won a battle over the Clippers for Smith. Grunwald mentioned how Lin had been on the Knicks' radar since he was at Harvard. Grunwald said the Knicks worked Lin out before the 2010 draft and kept track of him as Golden State, and later Houston, had him but ultimately cut him.
It still took some luck and desperation for Lin to finally get his chance here. The Knicks were in a 2-11 slump before he began to play, and with Amare Stoudemire and Anthony both out of the lineup, it left Lin plenty of room to try scoring (and scoring, and scoring ). But Grunwald and the front office deserve praise for this as well: The Knicks' ability since the season began to add other talented guards like Davis and Smith is a vindication of their decision to sign center Tyson Chandler instead of keeping veteran point guard Chauncey Billups.
Good centers are always, always, always harder to find than good guards. And Chandler is the best center the Knicks have had in years.
We still have to see whether the heavy minutes Lin is playing, the extra defensive attention he's now getting, and the odder sides of fame -- like having a photo of his new apartment building immediately go up on the Internet, or hearing that even President Obama has noticed him -- all catch up to him. Even for Lin, Linsanity is new.
But so far it only seems to be propelling Lin and the Knicks forward.
The Rangers just keep rolling, too.
February has already been magnificent around here. And February still has 11 days to go.