What made all the difference in Linas’s game was the confidence that he built throughout the suspensions which in turn brought him more playing time. Linas was really struggling in early November with averages of less than two points in less than ten minutes of action a night. He wasn’t shooting the ball with very much consistency, (22% from the field and 14% from 3-point land), and his overall game suffered. But a funny thing happened in late December (and no I’m not talking about Nate Robinson’s wrestling act). Carmelo Anthony was suspended for a month and Linas was instantly playing a lot more minutes in his absence.
From that point on Linas was playing around 15 minutes a game and his shooting percentages raised dramatically. Over the duration of Anthony’s absence Linas shot over 40% from the field and better than 34% from the downtown! He was taking the ball to the rim with more regularity and because of his explosive finishing capabilities found opposing players giving him more room on defense allowing him to get better three-point opportunities.
But Linas wasn’t yet content with his small step in the right direction. His confidence was just beginning to grow. And so was “Kleiza Mania”.
I’m coining the term above for the stretch of games during the months of February and March because LK’s demeanor changed and he was drawing a very strong following from the Nuggets Nation because of his absolutely electrifying performances. In February alone Linas scored in double figures six times, including four straight games in which the Nuggets won three out of four.
And as Linas’s confidence grew, so did “Kleiza Mania”.
In the month of March the Nuggets played a season-high 15 games. And in those 15 games, Linas scored in double figures in nine of those 15 including a career-high 29 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in the midst of a five-game Nuggets winning streak! At this point in the season Linas was averaging over 12 points and nearly five boards in over 25 minutes of playing time and easily playing the best basketball of his young career. It should also be noted that Linas raised his shooting percentages to over 40% in both statistical categories for this stretch and was playing much stronger defense too!
Obviously at this point Nuggets management was looking pretty wise for exercising a third year extension on Linas back in October. Now Linas is going to be able to continue to come off the bench for Carmelo Anthony and give the Nuggets a legitimate reserve player who can compensate when the All-Star needs a blow.
And at a modest $845,360 earned in salary for 2007 he presents no problem for the Nuggets to hang onto him and to continue to see what Linas can grow into.
I feel that Linas’s performances this season really solidified his position as one of the first players off George Karl’s bench next year. He grew by leaps and bounds in what was a bit of a trial by fire this season. More importantly he found a way to sustain the confidence that was gained during the suspensions and meshed it perfectly with additions of AI and Carmelo’s return.
Admit it now in the comments section if you too were guilty of “Kleiza Mania”.