Finally, a Winter of Our Content?

The crowd that gathered in the Madison Square Garden lobby was enormous and the excitement in the air had the energy of a revival meeting. There was that distinct Garden buzz again. There was a palpable sense of anticipation.

What were these people waiting for? This was between games on a busy day at MSG, which was going through the quick transformation from a basketball court to a hockey rink; from the giddy Knicks win over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks to a game between the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

But why was everyone hanging around here? Don’t they know the players don’t exit and enter through the lobby?

Still they stood and stared in a large circle around barricades, parents and children, staring with wide eyes, hoping to catch a glimpse of something magical. And then, he appeared.

Jeremy Lin? No.

Elmo.

So, OK, not everyone is caught up in Linsanity. Jeremy’s had a heck of a run, but let’s face it, Elmo’s gotJordanesque longevity. And he’s packing the Theatre right now.

Still, there is something different about the Garden over the last two weeks, and it’s not just the newness of Phase I of the Transformation. There’s an energy that filled the arena with nearly 40,000 fans in one day that hasn’t been felt in a very, very long time.

Today, New York’s baseball teams are tossing the ball in Florida. For far too long, the official reporting day for pitchers and catchers was counted down like Christmas. The arrival of baseball creates a sense of hope; a sense of relief that a cold, long winter’s end is finally near. And let’s face it, there have been some long, cold winters at the Garden over the last decade.

This year, however, winter hasn’t been so harsh. In fact, it’s been mild. We’re supposed to hit 60 degrees in New York City this week. Meanwhile, after the Giants‘ memorable Super Bowl run, the Knicks and Rangers have kept the city on fire through February.

Linsanity started the night before the Giants’ win in Indianapolis, when he emerged from the bench to spark a desperately-needed win over the Nets. We come full circle tonight at the Garden, as Deron Williams and the Nets return. And Carmelo Anthony may return, as well.

The Rangers have dominated the East in the NHL with Hart-caliber effort by goalie Henrik Lundqvist (“Lund-sanity“, anyone?) and nightly heart and soul efforts by John Tortorella‘s skaters.

And so here we are, as the Yankees and Mets set to draw your attention away, with the Knicks and Rangers aiming to party like it’s 1994. Last season the two Garden teams made the playoffs in the same season for the first time since 1997. This season there should be loftier goals.

This season, winter may last deeper into spring.

FIXINS

• Jeremy Lin’s 14 assists against the Mavericks were a career-high, which is the third time in four games that he has built on career-best totals in assists. He also had a career-high five steals in the game, which is one better than Friday’s game against the Hornets.

Lin, who also had 28 points, has had at least 20 points and 10 assists three times in his seven starts and has recorded a double-double four times in that span. He’s scored at least 20 points in eight of his last nine games.

The turnovers (seven against Dallas) remain the most glaring issue, but his effectiveness is undeniable. Lin has raised his season numbers to where he ranks among the league’s best in PER (player efficiency rating) at 24.2 (would rank 7th), Usage % (amount team’s offense runs through him when he’s in the game) at 31.3 (would rank 6th) and Assist % (scores off his passes when he’s in the game) at 50 (would rank 2nd behind Steve Nash).

• Best part of J.R. Smith‘s homecoming game on Sunday is that he spent the night at his mother’s house in New Jersey (he just got in Saturday night and still has to find a place of his own). A close second is what Mike D’Antoni revealed after the win over Dallas, in which Smith scored 15 points off the bench: the team didn’t run any plays when he was in the game. Smith has yet to practice with the team, so he didn’t know any plays. So D’Antoni told the group to “just play basketball.”

• Tyson Chandler had several hard falls in Sunday’s game and came away banged up. He did finish the game, however, and seemed fine in the locker room afterwards. The team took precautionary X-rays on both wrists and his lower back and found no damage. But he will be re-evaluated before tonight’s game. The Nets are not expected to play center Brook Lopez, who made his debut last night against the Bucks after he missed the start of the season with a broken foot.

• Jason Kidd praised Jeremy Lin after the game, but Mavs guard Jason Terry was in no mood to offer compliments about the Knicks guard. Before the game, Terry told Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski that Lin was a product of Mike D’Antoni’s system, to the point where he said “95 percent” of his success was from the system. While this is inarguable — D’Antoni’s system is predicated on point guard play — it isn’t fair to completely dismiss Lin’s skill set as a perfect match for the system. Terry may have missed how much Toney Douglas struggled earlier this season or how much Raymond Felton has become ordinary again.