The uncertainty over when Jeremy Lin would ever step on the court lingered seemingly at every moment of the day.
The uncertainty started when Lin sat in the Lakers’ loss on Friday to San Antonio to accommodate Jordan Clarkson’s first rookie start, marking his first non-appearance because of a coaching decision for the first time in three years.
The uncertainty continued when Lin’s conversation on Sunday morning Lakers coach Byron Scott only revealed the circumstances could change every game, though he hardly knew when or how.
The uncertainty remained unchanged as the Lakers opened Sunday’s game at Staples Center against the Houston Rockets, the team that traded Lin this summer in a salary dump after two seasons filled with fluctuating roles.
But nothing has matched Lin’s unpredictability with the Lakers. It has become a season where Lin struggled adapting toward sharing ball handling duties with Kobe Bryant, adjusting to Scott’s Princeton-based system and the fluctuating minutes as a starter and reserve along the way.
Perhaps that explains why Lin revealed he felt “thankful” for playing in an otherwise meaningless game. The Lakers’ 99-87 loss on Sunday to the Houston Rockets at Staples Center marked the team’s eighth consecutive loss. The Lakers (12-33) still have the NBA’s fourth-worst record. The Lakers seem destined to brace for more negativity when Kobe Bryant will meet with another doctor on Monday for another opinion on his torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.
For Lin, though, the game meant everything. His 14 points on 2-of-9 shooting, 10-of-14 mark from the foul line, six assists and three turnovers in 28 minutes hardly marked a perfect game. But it at least provided temporary solace for Lin as he tries to navigate through his new role.
“Definitely a DNP would change your perspective on things and allow me to take a step back,” Lin said. “So I’m just thankful I got on the court. I try to play my heart out and have fun. I was glad I was able to do that.”
Lin showed that in a variety of ways.
His shooting accuracy may have become dismal. But Lin compensated that weakness by relentlessly attacking the basket so he could earn trips to the foul line.
The Lakers may have appeared lifeless in a game they seemed destined to lose as James Harden poured on a team-high 37 points on 12-of-20 shooting, while the Lakers went 1-of-13 from three-point range. But Lin injected some energy as the Lakers sliced the Rockets’ lead to 89-78 with 5:33 remaining, the team’s 16-2 run punctuated with Lin making four free throws, converting on a layup and setting up Tarik Black with a wide-open shot.
Lin may have admitted his rhythm seemed off when he entered the game with 3:39 left in the first quarter and soon committed a turnover and a foul. But Lin still fought through it.
Yet, Lin laughed at the idea that he fulfilled these responsibilities to state his case.
“We’ve been down this road before,” Lin said. “Tonight I was enjoying the game and playing hard. Whether there is a costly turnover or not hitting the shots I wanted to hit from the outside, those things are just part of the game. I was just out there having fun attacking and really enjoying the experience. I was trying to play team basketball, get everyone involved and do the best we can. It was fun.”
Rarely has that happened for Lin this season.
He has averaged 10.5 points on 43.6 percent shooting, 4.5 assists and 2.3 turnovers in 25.7 minutes per game. But Scott has implored Lin to improve his consistency with playmaking, aggressiveness and defense. Lin has scored in double-digits for five consecutive games three different times this season. But he has scored in single digits in 18 games.
“His effort has been great. That never has been a problem with Jeremy,” Scott said. “It’s just a matter of being consistent each and every night, trying to get into a flow each and every night.”
Yet, Lin argued that will become more challenging amid a role that offers no sign when he will enter the game, if at all.
“The only thing you can get used to is you don’t know what’s coming next,” Lin said. “That’s been true this whole season. When I get out there, there’s a certain way I want to play. As long as I can do my best and do that as well as I can every game, whether it’s zero minutes, 10 minutes or 40 minutes, I have to try to do that.”
How that plays out remains to be seen both with Lin’s playing time and how he produces under any circumstances. But for one night, Lin relished it all, a feeling that felt so foreign only three days ago when he felt uncertain what would transpire next.