MIAMI — Jeremy Lin knows he would have been rusty and probably not in great shape if he tried to play for the New York Knicks in this playoff series against the Miami Heat.
He could handle those things.
What he couldn’t handle was the unknown, that being how much his surgically repaired left knee could handle if he tried to play too soon.
So with the Knicks already having lost guards Baron Davis and Iman Shumpert to serious knee injuries already in this series — there’s little chance Davis will play at all next season, and Shumpert’s availability for the start of next season would be considered highly doubtful at best — Lin is erring on the side of caution by not rushing a comeback against the Heat, a move that neither risks his knee or his earning potential this summer as a restricted free agent.
“I’m mostly worried about just not having to suffer a real setback, which would be a new knee injury,” Lin said Wednesday morning in Miami, where the Knicks were preparing for a win-or-else Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Heat.
The Knicks ended all questions about Lin’s status on Tuesday, when interim coach Mike Woodson said that the guard who exploded onto the NBA scene with a dazzling series of games in February will not play against the Heat, regardless of how long the series would last.
Lin has been trying to speed his recovery for a couple weeks, working out several times in Miami around Games 1 and 2, then trying to go through a full-speed workout earlier this week in New York. That one didn’t go well, with Lin — who thought there was a chance he could possibly play against Miami — saying afterward he felt pain and soreness in the knee.
“There was nothing to set it back,” Lin said. “I think to get from 85 percent to 100 percent takes more time than I may have thought.”
Lin’s story was quite probably the NBA’s most unexpected all season. He scored a total of 32 points in New York’s first 22 games, not getting any time in 13 of those and logging more than seven minutes only once.
His first breakout moment came Feb. 4 at Madison Square Garden, coming off the bench to score 25 points in 36 minutes. Lin started New York’s next 25 games after that, scoring 161 points in his first six starts including a 38-point effort — topping Kobe Bryant’s output that night by four — in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, then hitting the game-winning 3-pointer on the Knicks’ final shot as they rallied past Toronto 90-87 on Feb. 14.
Linsanity was all the rage, though it quieted down considerably after the Heat held him to a 1-for-11, eight-point night in the final game for both teams before the All-Star break. And the Lin buzz was then completely silenced by a cartilage tear a month later.
He hasn’t played since. Lin said some veterans have told him to be smart and not return until the knee is right, and Heat guard Dwyane Wade said he can understand why the Knicks and Lin would want to protect the future.
“Obviously, every player’s different,” Wade said Wednesday. “But when I think a player like him has a bright future, even though he probably can get out there and play, he’s not going to be as effective as he wants to be and he might do further damage. I thought that (Woodson) did a great job coming out and saying, ‘Listen, he’s not ready.’ Us as players, we always feel we’re ready.”
Lin said he doesn’t want to speculate too much about what the offseason may bring. When their playoff run ends, the Knicks are expected to quickly decide whether to remove the interim tag from Woodson’s title, and then will be faced with personnel decisions.
It’s widely believed Lin figures prominently in New York’s plans, and he’s fine if that’s the case.
“I’m definitely comfortable here,” Lin said. “I love playing in New York. I love the fans. They gave me a chance. They believed in me. That’s why I’m here today. I owe a lot to this organization.”