'Linsanity' continues in heroic fashion

665638.jpg

'Linsanity' continues in heroic fashion

From Comcast SportsNet
TORONTO (AP) -- Already writing the NBA's best story, Jeremy Lin has now scripted a thrilling finish. Nothing about the kid from Harvard should be a surprise anymore. When he launched a 3-pointer in a tie game with a half-second left in Toronto on Tuesday night, the result seemed obvious. "I knew it was going in," Knicks guard Iman Shumpert said. Who would doubt it at this point? Lin's 3-pointer capped his finishing flurry of six straight points to close the game as the Knicks rallied for a 90-87 victory over the Raptors, extending their winning streak to six. Their season sputtering just two weeks ago, before Lin escaped the bench, the Knicks (14-15) can get back to .500 with a victory over Sacramento on Wednesday. And with Lin running their show, that's exactly what they expect. "He continues to impress every night," New York's Jared Jeffries said. "Every game he plays better, he does more and more to help us win basketball games. You can't ask any more of a kid coming into this situation." Huge in New York, Linsanity was even bigger in Toronto, whose international community couldn't wait for a look at the NBA's first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. A season-high crowd of 20,092 was only the Raptors' second sellout of the season, and some 75 reporters and 16 cameras packed a Tuesday morning press conference to hear Lin speak. "Are we in the playoffs now?" coach Mike D'Antoni joked as he made his way to the front of the room. Not yet, but they sure have a shot now with Lin. The reigning Eastern Conference player of the week scored 27 points and added a career-high 11 assists, shaking off a sloppy first half to carry the Knicks down the stretch. Toronto led 87-82 with less than two minutes to go when Shumpert stole the ball from Jose Calderon and drove in for an uncontested dunk. After a missed shot, Lin completed a three-point play, tying it at 87 with 1:05 left. Leandro Barbosa missed a 3 for Toronto and, at the other end, Shumpert missed a jumper but Tyson Chandler grabbed the rebound. Lin took the ball near midcourt and let the clock run down to 5 seconds before driving and pulling up against Calderon to bury the decisive shot. "You just watch and you're in awe," D'Antoni said. "He held it until five-tenths of a second left. He was pretty confident that was going in, no rebounds, no nothing. That ball was being buried." Lin, cut by both Golden State and Houston in December, struggled early. He didn't score for the first eight minutes of the game, then turned the ball over on three straight possessions early in the second quarter and Toronto took advantage with a 6-0 run, widening its lead to 13 points. That was long forgotten by the end. "When he hit that shot it was simply amazing, we were hugging at midcourt like we'd won a championship," said Amare Stoudemire, who scored 21 points after missing four games following the death of an older brother in a Florida car crash. Scouts and general managers may have missed Lin when he went undrafted two years ago, but people all over the NBA are watching him now. The reaction to his winner on Twitter was similar to one of LeBron James' or Blake Griffin's huge dunks. "It's crazy!" Phoenix guard Steve Nash wrote. "I'm watching Linsanity hoping every shot goes in. Hope I never grow up." But Lin deflects the praise to his teammates, even though they were going nowhere until he started getting real minutes on Feb. 4. "It's not because of me, it's because we're coming together as a team," Lin said. "We started making these steps earlier but we were still losing close games and so obviously it wasn't fun. But when you win, that solves a lot of problems. We've been winning and we've been playing together."

Mailbag: Should Sharks trade a d-man for scoring help?

Mailbag: Should Sharks trade a d-man for scoring help?

Tuesday’s practice was canceled, as the Sharks boarded an afternoon charter flight to Los Angeles with the dads in tow for the annual fathers trip. That leaves us some extra time for a mailbag…

Why is no line set over halfway through the season? (Kevin Cocquyt @KevinCocquyt39)

The shuffling up of lines is one of those aspects of the game that I think gets overblown a bit. I can’t put a number on how many times Pete DeBoer has prefaced his reply to a question about the latest line changes with the phrase, “we’re not married to any lines…”

That said, I do think the preference would be to ice a more consistent top six at this point. The fact that they haven’t found a left wing to consistently skate on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski is concerning. On the second line, it remains to be seen if Kevin Labanc can stick with Logan Couture, or if he’ll start to fade a bit in his first NHL season. The other players that started the season on the second line, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker, have been moved all up and down the lineup all season long (more on that below).

Tomas Hertl’s absence has thrown a monkey wrench into all of this, of course. Assuming he gets back next month, there’s still plenty of time to get the lines sorted out for the playoff push. Regardless, though, they are almost always fluid, and keep in mind when DeBoer made a major change to his lines last playoff run – moving Patrick Marleau up to the second line and Chris Tierney to center the third line in the middle of the Nashville series – the Sharks finished off the Predators in the second round and went on to beat the Blues in the Western Conference Final.

So I guess my message here would be, don’t panic all that much at this point. It’s a long season.

Largest surprise and disappointment with the Sharks halfway through the season? There's a lot to pick from on both fronts. (Drew Cormier @DrewCormier)

I’ll give you one obvious and one maybe less obvious for both.

I’ll start with biggest surprise. It has to be Labanc. I know he tore up juniors last season, but this is still a kid who just turned 21 years old and wasn’t a high-round draft pick (sixth round, 2014). I knew the organization was high on him, and I even had him down as a dark horse player to make the team out of camp, but to come up so soon, and play regularly on a top scoring line and score seven goals – more than Donskoi, Boedker, Tierney, Joe Thornton and Joel Ward – is impressive, and, frankly, surprising.

One guy that’s gone under the radar a bit, though, is Brenden Dillon. The 26-year-old defenseman is simply faster and more mobile than he was last season, and he’s really made this defense corps one of the best in the NHL one-through-six. I know the numbers don’t show it, as Dillon has just four assists and a minus-five rating, but he’s a better player than he was last season.

As for disappointment, Boedker remains at the top of that list, even after his hat trick against the Oilers. He just doesn’t seem like the type of player that fits in with this forward group. At this point, I have to think there’s some buyer’s remorse there with Boedker owed $4 million a season through 2019-2020.

But another player that just hasn’t taken that next step so many thought he would is Donskoi. He was downright electrifying on some nights in the playoffs last season, and I thought this season we might see him get to 15-20 goals and 40-50 points. Instead, he’d be on pace for just 28 points in a full 82-game season. I thought he’d be better.

What do you think [Justin] Braun is worth? Can he be used as part of a deal for a top scoring forward? We need extra scoring. (Backhand Shelf @ChrisRivs)

I can understand the concern with the Sharks’ lack of scoring, and that many of their key forwards seem to be underperforming. Perhaps adding a little more scoring punch to their roster at the trade deadline is something that Doug Wilson will explore.

But, I don’t see any way this team will move one of its top four defensemen for a scoring forward. The strength and identity of this team this season has been its defensive structure and its ability to limit the opposition from getting shots and scoring chances in front of goalie Martin Jones. Moving Braun, or any of their other big minute defensemen, just wouldn’t make any sense.

I do, however, expect they’ll lose at least one of their current top six before next season, either through a trade or the expansion draft. That could very well be Braun, who might not get protected. In the meantime, though, they need him on the blue line.

Former Giants OF Gregor Blanco agrees to deal with NL West rival

Former Giants OF Gregor Blanco agrees to deal with NL West rival

After five seasons with the Giants, outfielder Gregor Blanco has a new home.

The veteran outfielder has agreed to a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, according to his agent Wilfredo Polidor.

The deal includes an invitation to spring training.

The deal includes a $1 million base salary if Blanco makes the major league roster, according to SB Nation's Chris Cotillo. Blanco has a chance to earn an addition $2.7 million in performance-based incentives and has an opt-out of April 1 in the deal.

Shortly after Polidor made the announcement, Blanco thanked the D'backs on Twitter for the bringing him to the organization.

"Thanks to the @Dbacks for let me part of a dream the same dream I got another ring another championship let's all dream together we can doit," Blanco wrote.

Blanco bounced around from Braves to the Royals from 2008 to 2010, but found a home with the Giants prior to the 2012 season.

Over five seasons with the Giants, Blanco appeared in 649 games. He hit .259/.338/.360 with 244 runs scored, 78 doubles, 24 triples, 19 home runs, 157 RBI and 75 stolen bases.