There’s no competition between Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker. Each one’s success is good for the Charlotte Hornets. But some games make the difference between the two players so easy to spot it’s impossible to ignore then.
The Hornets beat the New York Knicks 97-84, showing no signs of fatigue despite their previous overtime game, which is a special kind of victory considering they haven’t won two games in a row since December 29. Suddenly, the Hornets are only two games below .500, just like the Knicks, and sit just two games below the sliding Miami Heat, who occupy 8th in the Eastern conference. This time, it didn’t take heroics from Walker to clinch the win.
Lin scored 26 points to go with 5 assists (and 5 turnovers) while shooting 7-of-17 from the field, including 2-of-5 from beyond the arc and a perfect 10-for-10 from the line. Not the most efficient of shooting nights, but when you compare it to the forced offense from Walker, who scored the same amount but on 25 shots, and you get another example of the Hornets having a player that needs to be used a lot more, and it doesn’t really hurt the team having him in the lineup, playing 40 minutes and finishing with a team best +23.
Lin and the Hornets had a slow start, maybe needing some time to warm up due to the chilly to freezing weather outside the arena. But once he realized that the middle was wide open for him courtesy of the Knicks defense, the party started for him. Lin had no problem blowing by his defenders (and did a great job on defense once again, which is almost an automatic given nowadays) and either found himself with a pretty good look at the basket or an opening to feed someone else. The Knicks defense looked clueless the moment Lin got in the paint or around it, and from there, the scoring was easy for a team that often finds it difficult to get offense in a flowing, unforced way. Both Lin and Walker (5 assists as well) would have had close to double doubles if it wasn’t for Spencer Hawes and Marvin Williams going 2-of-15 from the field.
Yet it’s impressive to see a team starting Williams, Hawes and P.J. Hairston as their frontcourt win a game so easily. Cody Zeller, Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum and Al Jefferson are still out, and it’ll take special performances from Lin and Walker time and time again to get the Hornets through their upcoming stretch, although at home, where they’re 16-8 this season, they’re a very different team than away from home. The problem is Walker giving Lin enough touches to be as good as he can be.
Next for the Hornets comes one day of rest and a key part of their season: A four game road trip in the West, but not against teams the Hornets can’t beat. It’s Sacramento, Utah, Portland and the Lakers. All teams below .500, all teams that are far from perfect or even close to it. The Hornets didn’t play their best against the Knicks, but at least slightly moving away from the “Walker and Walker alone” approach is an improvement, and sticking to that switch gives them a good shot of heading back home in February with at least a couple of wins out West.