Steve Clifford, Jeremy Lin

The last two games for the Charlotte Hornets have shows a worrying trend regarding Jeremy Lin and his treatment at the hands of Steve Clifford, although in such a long season, sometimes trying to make too much of just two games isn’t the right approach.

But Lin has played the fourth quarter in almost every game this season, or at least most of it. If his benching in the win over the Washington Wizards can be explained by having a bad game (scoring 5 points in 15 minutes), probably his worst of the season, there was no sense of throwing him out of it in the fourth quarter in the loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. While Lin wasn’t having the game of a lifetime, he was making the team better, and one turnover resulted in him going to the bench, and the team falling apart.

Lin isn’t the whole team. Nicolas Batum is an important part, and so is Kemba Walker. But those three are the guys who usually handle the ball and create stuff for themselves and others. Jeremy Lamb also dabbles in things other than scoring, but he should stick to shooting and finishing alley oop lobs from Lin. He’s not a great floor manager or passer, and in the few times he tried and lead the second unit by handling the ball the Hornets looked bad, and never returned to that.

But as we’ve written probably 50 times over the last four seasons, Lin has things a lot of other NBA players making twice and four times his salary don’t have. Besides his improved long range shooting (something of a slump lately) and much improved defense, he has fantastic passing skills and vision, a constant drive to the basket approach that always makes a defense think and get disorganized (if there’s help from his other teammates in motion away from the ball) and there’s that unquantifiable flair aspect which usually belongs to players who are stars of their teams.

And when the Hornets signed Lin for a steal of a contract, it seemed, at least from the words of Michael Jordan, that they know how important he can be for them. And in an inconsistent way, especially with P.J. Hairston not playing, Clifford shows he thinks that too. This isn’t a case of a head coach who almost openly resents his own player like Byron Scott and to a lesser degree, Kevin McHale. Clifford doesn’t seem to be out there to hurt Lin’s career. Which makes the last two games and the overall approach of treating him differently than other players so difficult to comprehend.

This is a long season, and a couple of games of being dropped in the rotation hierarchy doesn’t always mean something in the long run. But if it doesn’t, it shows some bad instincts from Clifford regarding what works and what doesn’t for the team, at least in the Cavaliers game. He showed creativity in the win against the Kings by using a shooting sorta small-ball lineup to win that game, and went a whole different direction in the loss to the Cavs, for some reason punishing Lin for one mistake while allowing others to get away with theirs. For the sake of the team’s season, he needs to make better decisions in these moments.

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