Steve Clifford

The Charlotte Hornets lost for the second time in a row, beaten 109-91 by the Portland Trail Blazers. Jeremy Lin didn’t play due to an ankle injury, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was back for the first time this season, Nicolas Batum failed in his attempt to impress against his former team and Kemba Walker was mostly shooting bricks, and mysteriously benched in the fourth quarter.

Batum was the worst player on the floor in his first game at the Moda Center since leaving the Blazers. He shot 1-of-11 from the field to finish with 3 points. He also had 8 assists and 6 turnovers. Walker shot 4-of-13 from the field (shooting 36.3% from the field in the last five games) to finish with 14 points in only 24 minutes. Kidd-Gilchrist scored 13 points with 5-of-8 from the field, playing 34 minutes right off the bat. Steve Clifford promised and delivered with MKG. Marvin Williams led the Hornets with 20 points.

The whole Walker benching seemed odd. All season long he’s been the one player who can play bad and make mistakes left and right and still get playing time while also getting the ball again and again. The Hornets have clearly positioned him to be their star player, and all of a sudden, Clifford makes him disappear because Brian Roberts was hot? Walker has had worse shooting days than this one and he went untouched. No injury, according to Clifford, just brian Roberts playing well: I just didn’t go back to him because Brian was playing so well. When you get a group that digs into a lead you go with it, so that’s what I did.

Did something click for the Hornets regarding Walker and realized he should be treated as one of the guys, which means some sense of the right kind of flexibility has gotten into Clifford’s head, or someone whispering orders in his ear? Or was this a one time thing? Or maybe the Hornets not being completely truthful about an injury he picked up during the game?

Unless Walker or Batum catch fire when Jeremy Lin isn’t playing, there’s a big problem for Charlotte to deal with. Lin is the only player who “carries” a team with him, as in his shooting and scoring happens in relation to good team basketball, passing, motion, spacing and anything else you can come up with in that regards. Batum has excellent vision when he feels like passing, but he doesn’t set a tempo to the game like Lin can do. Walker, as we’ve written before, can have good days while the Hornets are drowning, or can miss almost all of his shots while everyone around him plays well. He works on a different plain of existence, for better and worse.

Kidd-Gilchrist looked better than expected in his first game this season, returning at least one month earlier than the initial evaluations. He scored 13 points on 5-of-8 from the field and does bring hope to a team that is once again struggling to avoid a potentially long losing streak, but his energy and fitness levels still aren’t where they are when he’s 100%, and his contribution to the team, on both defense and offense, doesn’t generate some widespread pulse that affects everyone. He’s a valuable piece to have, especially defensively, but still not a player that on his own change the destiny of a game. His shooting is still limited to being very near the basket, which means more spacing issues for the Hornets.

The Hornets problems aren’t always injuries and missing players, even though they have plenty of those too. It’s been a basketball philosophy kind of issue, one which they’re aware of but have been unable or unwilling to address. Every time we think Clifford learns from the good things he does or mistakes he makes, we learn that he falls back to the old, failing tendencies. When Lin returns to a team that now has Kidd-Gilchrist in the rotation as well, it’ll be interesting to see if the coaching staff remembers why they won three games in a row, followed by losing twice without putting up a fight.

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