SALT LAKE CITY — Last season Utah missed out on the “Linsanity” that swept the NBA when then little-known Jeremy Lin came out of nowhere to play so spectacularly that he made the cover of Sports Illustrated two weeks running.
That’s because the New York Knicks never made a visit to Salt Lake City during the lockout-shortened season.
Lin scored 28 points in the Knicks' win over the Jazz in New York City at the start of his remarkable run last February, but before Monday he hadn’t made a visit to EnergySolutions Arena since becoming a household name in the basketball world (although he had come to Utah twice when he was with Golden State the year before).
Playing for the Houston Rockets after signing a free-agent contract during the offseason, there was some anticipation by a lot of Jazz fans to see him up close and personal Monday night.
But as a Rocket, Lin turned out to be a dud.
Lin was just another player as he finished with 13 points on just 5 of 15 from the field and only passed out three assists, tying his season low, in Houston’s 102-91 loss to Utah.
Lin didn’t have much to say after sitting at his locker for 20 minutes icing his ankles and knees prior to showering.
He talked about getting better defensively and said the Rockets can’t be “an excuse team’’ after losing their third-straight road game.
“Right now we’re finding our rhythm,’’ he said. “For me it’s about taking good shots and they’ll go down.’’
Coach Kelvin Sampson, sitting in for Kevin McHale, who took an indefinite leave of absence earlier this month, acknowledged Lin is struggling with his shooting.
“I thought Jeremy played hard and he tried,’’ Sampson said. “I thought his defense was much better tonight. He is just struggling with his shot right now. It is tough to finish over (Derrick) Favors and (Paul) Millsap and (Al) Jefferson and those guys.’’
Lin scored the first points of the game on free throws after getting fouled on a drive to the basket early. His first field goal came at the 4:15 mark of the first quarter on a driving layup. He made all three of his shots in the second quarter to finish the half with 10 points, but his first assist didn’t come until the final 15 seconds of the half when he hit Terrance Jones for a dunk.
But in the second half, he only managed 1 of 8 from the field and missed a couple easy shots under the basket.
Another player local fans were anxious to see was James Harden, who came into the game averaging 26 points a game, second in the NBA, after being traded from Oklahoma City to the Rockets just before the start of the season.
However, Harden played 17 ineffective minutes in the first half, before leaving the game with an upper respiratory infection at halftime.
Sampson said Harden “had a temperature” and he wasn’t sure if he’d play at all. But Harden wanted to try.
Harden’s only basket came with 1:33 left in the first half when he hit a 3-pointer out front. Otherwise, he missed on his other five tries in the first half and made three free throws. His six points marked the lowest output of the season, behind a 15-point game against Denver earlier in the month.
Houston will make its second appearance of the season on Jan. 28 and perhaps then Jazz fans will get a better show out of Lin and Harden.