The Charlotte Hornets are licking their wounds from getting beat up by the best team in the NBA. Jeremy Lin is either pushed aside by Steve Clifford or injured or both. Kemba Walker had one of his worst games ever, although it won’t stop him from playing 35 minutes a night and keeping his diplomatic immunity to prolonged benching, even if he’s hurting the team.
The biggest question that rises from the loss to the Golden State Warriors (116-99), a game in which Lin played just 13 minutes (scoring 5 points with 3 assists) while Walker scored 4 points on 2-of-16 from the field (31 minutes) and Brian Roberts of all people got 20 minutes (wasn’t that bad actually) has to do with Lin. Why so little time on the floor? Did it have to do with an injury, to his ankle, or maybe a recurring issue with his back? And if he was actually injured, why play him at all in a game that the team can afford to lose because let’s face it, there are some games during an 82-game season you “throw” and move on to the next one.
If Lin is actually injured, even if it further shortens the Hornets lineup, let him rest a game or two. It’s better than keeping him hobbled and limited on the floor where he might actually do some damage to himself or the team, even against weaker opponents than the Warriors. But if he isn’t, Clifford’s way of handling his minutes and his place in the rotation has just been baffling (we’ve used that word before), inconsistent, and mostly harmful to the team, and obviously to Lin.
In the last four games, win or lose, Lin has played just 17.5 minutes per game, taking a total of 16 shots from the field. In the win over the Washington Wizards (101-87) it was probably the one time it made sense to take out Lin for having a bad game but once again, it showed the double standards of Clifford, who punished Lin for mistakes he makes while allowing others, not just Walker, to go on and do as they like. Guess which player is going to be more confident the next time he plays – the one who is afraid of getting benched each time he turns the ball over, or the one who has his coach’s backing.
In the loss to the Cavaliers, the Hornets fell apart once Lin was taken off the floor. Who knows, maybe it has nothing to do with it, but we’ve seen quite a few times this season when inserting the second unit pushed up the pace late in the first quarter or early in the second and got the Hornets back into the game after the starters struggled with their mundane, slow and predictable basketball. Going with a faster style that’s based on moving the ball, player movement without the ball and stretching the floor while Lin touching the ball a lot has been mostly beneficial for the Hornets (see their win against the Kings), but Clifford so rarely turns to that option.
It’s funny how quickly teams and coaches fall into old habits. The whole purpose of bringing in Lin and Nicolas Batum wasn’t just to fill up the lines with rotation players. It was about changing the identity of the Hornets, who played bad basketball last season on their way to miss the playoffs. But all that talk and all those promises have evaporated for some reason, with Clifford unable or unwilling to enforce change of style on this team. Their record right now is fine, not too bad and not too stellar, but in the long run, not allowing the team to evolve, which means playing the right players in the right roles from now on, is going to bite them back.