Jeremy Lin vs Raptors

The injuries of Nicolas Batum and Al Jefferson don’t exactly come at a great time for the Charlotte Hornets, heading into their game with the Toronto Raptors while trying to win one of the playoff seeds that gives them one round of home court advantage. On the other hand, Jeremy Lin should get a lot more minutes and hopefully see a lot more of the ball in what should be his first starting gig in almost two months.

I don’t think the December 17 game between the Hornets and the Raptors was the finest performance by Lin this season, but it was his highest scoring performance this season. He finished with 35 points in a 109-99 overtime win, starting instead of an injured Batum, while Jefferson was out with a suspension and injury. Not too different of a situation, although the Hornets didn’t have Courtney Lee at the time. One P.J. Hairston was playing in the lineup back then.

Kemba Walker had 27 points in that game on bad shooting, but did well from the line in the overtime finish. The Hornets let a big lead slip away from them in the fourth quarter (Walker was nowhere to be found late in regulation), while a three pointer from Lin to kick off overtime kicked the Hornets into a big enough lead they could protect with some clutch shooting from the line. The Hornets lost two weeks later in Toronto with Lin not playing. Walker had one of those nights in which he starts shooting and doesn’t stop, while Batum was going through the motions.

The Raptors are going to be the number two seed in the East, falling too far behind the Cavaliers to actually think seriously about trading places. DeMarre Carroll not playing doesn’t make it easier for them and seriously hurts their perimeter defense, but with the kind of backcourt they have and the defensive problems the Hornets showed against the Cavaliers, there are plenty of opportunities for one of the best backcourts in the NBA to grab another home win and keep the Hornets further away from third or fourth in the East.

It’s one of those games in which the Hornets will probably the need the all-around contribution of Cody Zeller and for Courtney Lee to be a little bit more “there” offensively. Jeremy Lamb actually showing up and playing his part or more wouldn’t be a bad thing either. In any case, without Batum, Lin should get a significant minute bump, while Lamb, due to his limited offensive contribution and almost nothing on the defensive end, remains pretty much the same.

It’s been awhile since Lin started this season. But in only 11 starts he’s done extremely well, averaging 17.8 points in 35.1 minutes per game, shooting 45.6% from the field and 41.5% from beyond the arc. It’s incredible what confidence and opportunity does to talented players. The problems is the Hornets don’t turn to that option often enough, and when they do it they’re already handicapped for some reason. It’ll probably take a very big game from Lin once again, although it doesn’t have to translate into just points, to pull off the win across the border. This time, Walker being good or bad will have an influence on the team.

And who knows – maybe Steve Clifford has other, surprising plans in mind for the starting lineup. It wouldn’t be the first time.

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