HOUSTON - It's been nearly two years since Jeremy Lin reached uncharted territory and his popularity took off internationally with the Knicks.
Now, in his second season with the Rockets, Lin makes another return to Madison Square Garden Thursday night to play the Knicks. Lin still gets excited about playing in New York, but the 25-year-old puts the situation in perspective.
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"For me it's just another game. It's two years removed so I'm just going to play basketball and not going to worry too much about Madison Square Garden," said Lin who had 34 points and 12 assists in a 123-117 overtime loss to the 76ers Wednesday night.
"Obviously I have so many great memories there and will cherish it forever, but it's just basketball. "A lot of the attention will be on James [Harden] and Dwight [Howard], them coming to the Garden." Harden missed Wednesday night's game in Philadelphia with a bruised left foot.
But the spotlight still will be on Lin, who in February 2012 made a tremendous impact first coming off the bench and then after gaining a starting role in the Knicks' backcourt. Lin became the first NBA player to have at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his first five starts since the Elias Sports Bureau began charting statistics in 1970. And he had the most points (136) in his first five starts since the 1976-77 NBA merger.
In Lin's first return to the Garden last December after leaving the Knicks to sign with Houston as a restricted free agent, he sparked the Rockets to a 109-96 win. The 6-3 guard had 22 points, eight assists, four rebounds and two steals.
"It was cool to go back there with him on our team and see how the fans reacted," Rockets forward Chandler Parsons said. "It was an unbelievable time and fun to watch. Jeremy's put that behind him. He's in a good place. It'll be interesting to see how he plays there."
So far this season Rockets coach Kevin McHale hasn't committed to a starting point guard. The job has been shared by Patrick Beverley and Lin, who started four of the first eight games and has provided a spark when in a reserve role.
Coming off the bench on Monday, Lin scored 31 points in Houston's 110-104 win over Toronto. Lin seems fresher and more relaxed this season than last year. "[Jeremy and I] talked about him coming off the bench," McHale said. "I said you've got to go out there and just play. He's got more bounce in his legs. He's got more juice. He's been playing very well."