O'Neal: Lin 'has been tremendous'

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O'Neal: Lin 'has been tremendous'

BOSTON No NBA locker room is safe from the Linsanity that is Jeremy Lin, the Harvard educated basketball player that has taken the New York Knicks -- and the entire NBA with it -- by storm.

Not even the Boston Celtics, a team that seldom opines about other players on other teams, can help but acknowledge the instant impact he has made since the Knicks made him a starter.

Lin's story of being waived by multiple teams and on the cusp of being cut by the Knicks is well-documented.

Boston center Jermaine O'Neal never had that kind of adversity to overcome.

But like Lin, he too had to wait for his opportunity to play before eventually flourishing in the NBA.

"Me personally, I know where he's coming from," said O'Neal, a six-time all-star. "I kind of did the same thing in Portland, sat for four years and got an opportunity. As players, we understand when an opportunity comes, it's up to you to take full advantage of it."

And Lin has done just that.

In the last six games -- all wins for the Knicks -- Lin has averaged 26.8 points, 8.5 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. The downside of his game, however, is in the fact that during the same span, he's averaging 5.2 turnovers per game.

"He's found a system that fits his skill level," O'Neal said. "Obviously he has a tremendous amount of skill level. Hopefully he can continue at the high pace that he's doing."

Chris Wilcox has also been impressed with Lin's play.

"Hopefully he can do it for the rest of the season," Wilcox said. "Big ups to him."

While most of the world was caught totally off-guard by Lin's play, NBA players are immune to guys coming out of nowhere to play well for a initial period of time.

"As players, we're not surprised," O'Neal said. "We understand more than anybody, if you get to a system and the coach doesn't think you fit the style of play they have, then you won't play. Then you get to a system where the coach feels like you can fit and throws you out there to play, then your skill level can really show. He's been tremendous."

But the Lin-lovefest can only go so far.

"We don't become fans," O'Neal said.

And with each win bringing the Knicks closer to Boston in the Atlantic Division standings, the C's are keeping all the hoopla surrounding Lin in perspective.

"We got other things to worry about here," Wilcox said.

"Hopefully it stops, the winning, from the perspective of a Celtic," said O'Neal. "But I wish him the best of luck, because I know how hard it is to do well in this league and be consistent at it."

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.