The Charlotte Hornets went back to their winning ways against one of the best defenses in the league, as Jeremy Lin made the most of the opportunity and was the best player on the team in a 104-95 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, playing without Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio.
The absence of Wiggins and Rubio as the Timberwolves complete their four games in a five night stretch that coaches fear so much obviously helped, but it was actually the Hornets bench, especially Lin and Jeremy Lamb, that made the difference. Lin finished with 19 points in 26 minutes. He had 3 assists, and actually got his shooting going (6-of-11 from the field, 6-of-8 from the line) each time after his assists. Some players need a shot to get them going. With Lin, it’s creating for others.
Lin looking good means Lamb playing well, coming quickly off of screens to finish with 18 points on 8-of-10 from the field. Nicolas Batum scored 17 points, but like Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, his presence on the court often did more harm than good. Turns out the unit that’s been struggling putting in consistent, solid minutes felt the most comfortable in this game, and it begins with Lin attacking the basket on almost every opportunity.
The Timberwolves defense might be ranked pretty high on the efficiency meter, but it was getting them into mismatches, with the picks working this time for the Hornets, getting big men to defend guards and take advantage of the situation. Lin took the players guarding him, be it Tyus Jones or Zach LaVine, to the rim time after time. He got some points off of it on his own, be it from the line or by finishing strong. Lin rarely messed up this time when getting in the paint.
It’s alright to have bad games as a player and a coach. It’s alright to try things out, but what’s unforgivable in the NBA is making a mistake and repeating it just because you’re stubborn. Clifford has seen what lineups work best for him and who are the players that have the biggest influence on his offense, and yet Lin remains secondary in his plans, at least when compared to Walker, who hasn’t been doing anything special this season up to this point.
The thing about lessons is that they don’t always sink in. Whenever Lin was on the floor in the win over the Timberwolves, the Hornets were better, smarter and more aggressive offensively. Clifford had to be taking some sort of notes, but in many cases, the decision regarding playing time and rotations is set without taking into account actual ability. After a couple of weak nights, Lin puts himself back in the front of this team’s offense, without it hurting his defense. Clifford might not always be happy with Lin’s unit, but it’s impossible to ignore his influence on the team regardless of who he’s playing next to.