NEW YORK — Amare Stoudemire watched Linsanity from Florida, a welcome break as he grieved the death of his brother.
Carmelo Anthony had a front-row seat right in New York, where he couldn’t escape fears he was eventually going to mess things up.
Both superstars will return soon, but the question is no longer whether they can coexist.
Now, it’s how do they fit on Jeremy Lin’s team.
Linsanity entered its second week Monday, with the Knicks on a roll they feel can keep right on going behind their surprising point guard, who coach Mike D’Antoni said has given the team a “spirit” and a “swagger.”
“You go into every game thinking you’re going to win, and it changes everybody’s mood,” D’Antoni said.
Lin was chosen as Eastern Conference player of the week after averaging 27.3 points and 8.3 assists in his first four starts. The Knicks have won five in a row heading into Toronto on Tuesday, turning things around after an 8-15 start.
The Knicks used words like “fun” and “exciting” to describe the last week as they met with an enormous media contingent for a mid-February practice. Lin sat out practice to rest, but Stoudemire was back on the floor after leaving the team last Monday after his older brother, Hazell, was killed in a car crash.
“The only positive for us during that whole week was we were watching the basketball games and we were watching Linsanity and my family was getting a kick out of it,” Stoudemire said. “That’s the only smiles really they had all week.”
Plenty of others were watching. The Knicks said Saturday’s victory at Minnesota was their highest-rated game on MSG Network since Anthony’s Knicks debut last Feb. 23 against Milwaukee, and that ratings are up 70 percent over their season average since Lin became a starter.
“It’s more exciting than anything, just to see the buzz that he’s created here in New York, here in the NBA as a whole,” Anthony said. “I just want to get back there and be a part of it.”
But amid all the good feelings around the Knicks, there was the question that won’t go away until the whole team is together in a game.
Anthony, who has battled injuries much of the season, strained his right groin just six minutes into Lin’s starting debut against Utah last Monday, and the Knicks hope he’ll be back at the end of this week. He’s never seemed a natural in the pick-and-roll offense, given his preference to isolate and take his man 1-on-1. That’s created questions of how — or if — he will adapt to playing with Lin.
And yes, Anthony has heard them.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I know what I bring to the game, I know what I bring to this team, my teammates know what I bring to the team and the only thing I can do is just go out there and continue doing what I’m doing. Like I said, Jeremy, he’s our point guard right now, he’s proven that, he’s playing extremely well, and I look forward to playing with him, I’ll tell you that.”
Lin, the NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese decent, came with little expectations after he was undrafted out of Harvard and cut by two other teams before the Knicks picked him up in December. That underdog quality made him easy to root for in New York, even before he turned around the Knicks’ season.
“He’s Rudy,” Anthony said.
Anthony is the superstar whom the Knicks broke up a promising team to acquire from Denver last season, and that comes with pressure to play great and make sure the team is, too. So perhaps playing with Lin can alleviate that.
“This is like a dream come true to me,” Anthony said, referring to the ease that playing with a pass-first point guard can provide.
Lin understands the skepticism, but pointed out that Anthony — whose 4.2 assists per game are just ahead of Lin’s 4.1 for the team lead — is a willing and capable distributor.
“I can see why they’re questioning it, just because he’s a playmaker as well and he has the ball in his hands a lot, but I think when he comes back we’re just going to continue to run what works for us, and he’s actually in my opinion an underrated passer,” Lin said. “I think we’ll be fine once he gets back.”
D’Antoni calls the talk “ludicrous,” chalking it up the same doubters who refused to believe that Lin was the real thing after his first couple of starts.
“That’s normal. You’ve got to say something. ‘Let’s wait and see.’ That’s part of sports,” D’Antoni said. “But again, we talked about he’s not getting any slower, he’s not getting any dumber, and I think he’ll only get better.”
Actually, the Knicks expect Lin’s numbers to drop once the regulars are back. But they have a chance to keep the wins going, with three straight games against sub-.500 teams this week.
Stoudemire felt things were turning in the first game Lin got meaningful minutes, when plays were getting made that weren’t for the first month and three point guards of the season. So it’s no wonder Lin is just as popular inside the locker room as he seems to be everywhere else.
“I think because we were all looking for answers from the point guard position so far this season and we tried every point guard that we had,” Stoudemire said. “And we saved the best for last I guess.”