OAKLAND, Calif. — When Jeremy Lin returned from a 40-day layoff after his first hamstring injury, he came off the bench at Houston and made a positive impact every second he was on the floor. But after a second 60-day layoff, his return as a starter in Denver reflected the reality that Lin has missed all but 13 games this season and is going to struggle to regain his effectiveness in the final 25 games that remain.
“It’s not pretty,” Lin said in Denver after the Nets lost their 15th straight game and he played only 14 minutes. “It’s going to be ugly at times. But just slowly getting my rhythm back. The frustrating part as a competitor is not being able to put the imprint on the game that I want to, but it will come.”
As much as he was looking forward to playing the Warriors Saturday night in the Bay Area, where he could look forward to a homecoming of sorts with family, friends and the deep affection of the local Asian community, Lin knew he was facing another tough night against one of the NBA’s top teams.
“It’s definitely not easy,” Lin said of the Warriors, who were without Kevin Durant, who was scheduled to sit out with a hand injury. “It doesn’t make our job easier, but you’ve got to strap on your boots and go to war again.
“I think there’s certain things I can continue to grow at every game. [Saturday] night will be frustrating in terms of it will probably look similar in terms of [a limited] role tonight. But I’m at least excited to be out there and play.”
Wherever Lin goes, it’s obvious he enjoys strong support from the Asian community. But since he attended high school in nearby Palo Alto, Calif., this area basically is his home base.
“It’s always special,” Lin said. “It’s like the one time every year that a lot of people get to come and watch me play. I always have by far the most family and friends or whatever postgame at Golden State. So, it’s always special anytime I get to go home and see a lot of people who helped raise me or teach me or whatever.”
Ordinarily, you might expect an inspired Lin to put on a showcase for his Bay Area fans. But he admitted in Denver that he basically is in first gear at this stage of his comeback. He faulted the Nets for their failure to compete well against the Nuggets, and he included himself in that evaluation.
“Part of that is on me as well,” Lin said. “I didn’t feel like I was doing enough, making enough energy plays, and I think that carries over. So, yeah, it does put a damper on the first start.”
The Nets returned from the All-Star break full of optimism about making a fresh start with Lin in the lineup, and they were excited about sliding first-round rookie Caris LeVert into the starting small forward role vacated when Bojan Bogdanovic was traded. But the flip side of a reset means starting over yet again with two new players in the lineup and the adjustments that requires. Ultimately, it should be better, but it takes time for everyone to get on the same page.
“That’s definitely a part of it,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I said before the game we’d love to get to a stable lineup where we can really get grooved playing together a lot. It’s hard to find enough sample size because we’ve changed lineups so much and changed around so much to know what groups work together. So, I’m really hoping, as Jeremy gets healthier and can play more minutes, we can get to those lineups.”