The Charlotte Hornets, without Al Jefferson, are the next team to try and put a stop to the Golden State Warriors perfect start to the season. For Jeremy Lin, it’s another opportunity to face his first NBA team, and also the first to let him go.
Lin is a minor piece in the story of this game. The big issue is the Hornets trying to win for a sixth time in seven games, the last of a home stretch in which they’ve lost just once while winning five times. Al Jefferson isn’t playing, which probably means Cody Zeller is going to be starting at center, and it opens up the opportunity to play some small ball or at least a shooting lineup for Steve Clifford, against a Warriors team who specialize in these kind of lineups, although don’t use them unless they need it.
Defensively, this is going to be a huge issue for the Hornets. The only way of stopping Stephen Curry is double teaming him and slowing down the pace of the game, but that leaves someone open. The Hornets don’t have enough defensive talent to really make it difficult on Golden State like the Jazz did in the Warriors previous win. However, going with a bigger perimeter, which means Lin and Nicolas Batum at the guard slots, with Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky and Zeller in the frontcourt could be an interesting way of approaching things.
Don’t expect it to happen though, even if playing the Warriors is the perfect time to experiment for Clifford, who has rarely been creative in his lineup choices this season. A loss is what most people expect anyway, so why not try to find out whether certain lineups work or not, giving yourself options for the rest of this season? Clifford will probably go with his more traditional choices, which is what hasn’t worked for every other NBA team against the Warriors this season.
Back to Lin, who hopefully will get more minutes in this game, even if the rotation got shorter in the frontcourt, not for the guards. It’ll be the 12th time he faces the Warriors, a team he’s averaged 11.5 points and 4.5 assists against. He had two bad games and two pretty good ones against the Warriors last season, including a stunning Lakers win out of the four meetings. In 2012-2013, when the Warriors were a different team and Lin was playing for the Rockets, he probably had his best run against them, including a 28-point performance when the Rockets were hitting 3-pointers like layups before Mark Jackson told his players to start hitting anyone who tried a three.
There are many ways to approach this game for the Hornets, and in pretty much every scenario the likely ending is a loss. But playing Lin at point guard, or at least as the guy handling the ball most of the time, they improve their chances of making this competitive. Not by randomly taking him out and putting him in, but by giving him real, substantial, consistent minutes on the floor. Clifford might not get a W from it, but there’s more in one basketball game than just a win.