SAN FRANCISCO -- A lot has happened since Bay Area native Jeremy Lin last played at Oracle Arena nearly 14 months ago.
But when his Houston Rockets visit the Warriors on Tuesday, Lin will have proved the most important thing: He belongs.
The third-year point guard isn't as dominant as he was at the height of Linsanity, when he carried the injury-riddled New York Knicks into the postseason. But nor is he a 13th man. Lin is the starting point guard for a team in the mix for the Western Conference playoffs.
"I didn't know it would happen this fast," Lin said after practice Monday, referring to the rise of his career. "Midway through my first year in the league, I was like, 'Dude, I could do this. I can play at this level.' "
Lin said he loves being a Rocket. He even considers it home now. Houston is the peaceful middle ground between the pressure of the Bay Area and the magnitude of New York.
He can walk around, have dinner in comfort. He doesn't have hype pressing on his shoulders or doubt shoving him in the back. It is an experience Lin said he hasn't known since Harvard.
"I think I'm in a good place where I can grow and mature and get better as a player," Lin said. "And kind of go at a reasonable, normal pace. ... Playing (in the Bay Area) my rookie year was tough. There was a lot of pressure, and I wasn't ready for it. And then New York is New York.
"Houston is a nice change of pace for me."
Lin is not devoid
Unlike in New York, where the offense seemed to revolve around Lin's pick-and-roll abilities, Houston is challenging him to be a better point guard. The Rockets like to play at a fast pace and shoot a ton of 3-pointers, which the Warriors learned the hard way in their first matchup, a 140-109 loss last week. Lin still gets to run the pick-and-roll, but he also has to play off the ball and get his teammates going.
"He couldn't shoot like he shoots the basketball now," said Sacramento Kings coach Keith Smart, who coached Lin with the Warriors. "He was still trying to get the ball to the basket, where defenses were waiting on him. But that next year or year and a half, his game changed because his jump shot evolved. And once the jump shot evolved, he had a great feel for finding people, making plays to other teammates.And then his game took off."
During Linsanity, he was averaging 13.5 shots per game. This season, he is taking about three shots fewer. In New York, Lin's usage rate was 28.9 percent of the plays. With Houston, he is down to 19.7.
Some say Lin's decline in production was proof that Linsanity was a fluke.
Reality says Lin is a catalyst for a team on the rise in the Western Conference.
"Linsanity, man," Warriors point guard Stephen Curry said. "That's going down in history as the most unbelievable thing ever. It wasn't overrated at all. You give credit where credit is due. He's pretty good."
Houston (28-25) at Warriors (30-21), 7:30 p.m. CSNBA