The difference between the Nets who got blown out by 29 points in San Antonio and the Nets who held a three-point lead over Houston and James Harden with 1:57 left to play on Monday was night and day.
Their Texas road trip resulted in two losses, but Jeremy Lin’s return after missing 40 days and 17 games with a hamstring injury turned the Nets into the scrappy, tough out they aspired to become when this season began.
In barely 20 minutes, Lin scored 10 points and had seven assists, but the most obvious difference was his plus-17 rating. In each of his four playing stints, the Nets outscored the Rockets.
“I was really thrilled,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “You usually expect a guy to be a little rusty, but I didn’t see that at all. He had great energy and played with good poise. I was just happy he didn’t try to do too much.
“Sometimes, you come back and you’re anxious to do too much, especially as ambitious as he is. It was good he did it within the team concept.”
Anticipating Lin’s return against the Rockets, center Brook Lopez described him as the Nets’ “guiding light,” and he was every bit of that. Lin’s poise was rooted in what he learned during his 40 days on the sidelines studying his teammates and theorizing on how to make everything work better together.
“I’ve really narrowed down what I need to do,” Lin said. “I just need to get us organized on both ends of the floor, and I need us to be solid defensively and get great shots on the offensive end. It sounds simple, but I think mixing up play calls, understanding different lineups and where guys need the ball and making sure that happens at the right time is just part of being a point guard.
“I’m just trying not to be flashy or take over the game. I’m trying to play naturally. If I’m hot one night or if they’re giving me a certain thing, it’ll happen, but I don’t need to go and seek it.”
Not surprisingly after the rehab work he put in, Lin was pleased with his stamina under game conditions. If there was any lingering effect of his injury, it showed when he stopped several drives into the paint in the first half, but he finally made it to the rim in the fourth quarter.
“My burst of speed getting by guys isn’t completely there yet,” Lin said. “So you adjust and figure it out. A lot of times, it’s getting passes out quicker or reading angles. I think that will come back soon.”
Actually, Lin’s mere presence forcing the action toward the rim made a dramatic difference as the Nets outscored the Rockets in the paint, 68-36. It gave the Nets reason to believe again.