The season finish for the Charlotte Hornets, who might or might not end up with not just a playoff place but possible home court advantage, is anything but easy, with a series of away games that begins with the Cleveland Cavaliers, takes them through the Toronto Raptors and later down the line includes the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards. In the East, that’s difficult.
Where do the Hornets fall in the end? The Miami Heat seem to be in trouble due to injuries. The Celtics and Hawks are probably playing better basketball right now than the Hornets, but Charlotte are in third, with their three-game winning streak (two against the Sixers, remember) the longest in the East. They have a good enough defense to carry them through the more painful of their offensive games, but defense doesn’t become that unique in the playoffs, when everyone usually takes that part of their game up a notch.
So how do they make the offense better? Keeping things as they are seems like they’re asking for trouble. Playing against the Cavaliers the way they are now seems to be asking for trouble. Kemba Walker might have a better day from the field, he might have a worse than usual shooting day. Sadly, it doesn’t really make a difference. With teams having more time to specifically prepare for certain things, the Hornets need to put a more versatile, unexpected product on the court.
Jeremy Lin. No, he’s not the answer to everything the Hornets lack when Walker is struggling and still handling the ball, nor can he do everything that Walker does when he’s hot. But Lin brings a certain aspect to the Hornets that not even Batum does as well. It’s the combination of vision and the ability to slice up a defense, taking up attacking the rim as a first option, something Lin does better than anyone else on this team, and should keep doing early in games. He doesn’t get lost in his own game, he doesn’t get torched on defense (quite the opposite) and in short, he deserves more minutes, and more of them as the one handling the ball.
Steve Clifford is a good defensive coach, but either super conservative in most games offensively, or simply one who is very afraid to stop sticking to his guns, even when they’re not working. And some people are hard to move from the positions they established for themselves. The Hornets have lineups they’ve hardly used this season that could be very interesting. Some combinations that are great defensively, and have the potential to click on offense, even when it doesn’t include the one-on-one flash of Walker.
Benching Walker (which means simply giving him less minutes, not throwing him out of the game) doesn’t seem to be an option unless he’s really doing terribly. But taking the ball out of Walker’s hands is a decision Clifford is capable of making, but probably doesn’t want. However, above all, Clifford does want to win, and with the Hornets in a much better position than expected at the beginning of the season, doing the predictable, obvious thing will only stop the Hornets from possibly doing something that hasn’t been done by this franchise since the Charlotte Bobcats sprung onto the world.
It takes just a little bit of faith in Lin and in a different style of basketball. He doesn’t have the kind of star in Walker who’ll self destruct if things don’t go his way. After almost a season of seeing what works, what doesn’t and what can work even better, Clifford should try to get a home run, instead of simply batting for average.