The Charlotte Hornets didn’t listen to us (surprising, right?) and kept Jeremy Lin as the backup point guard in an easy 99-81 win over the Miami Heat as Kemba Walker led the scoring along with Marvin Williams, Nicolas Batum got triple double and Al Jefferson, not even playing, got himself suspended.
The win puts the Hornets on top of the Southeast division and second in the East overall behind the Cleveland Cavaliers. Some might say they’ve been lucky thanks to a very long home stand they’ve made the most of, but they’ve been playing the same teams everyone has. They might not have been consistent all the time, especially on offense, but thanks to an excellent second unit that often covers up for starters mistakes and the continuation of their solid defense from the previous two years, they’re a big ahead of the curb in terms of their expectations.
Their win over the Heat might have been their easiest game of the season. No defense whatsoever from an exhausted team allowed Walker and Williams to each score 18 points, while Batum finished with 10 points along with 11 rebounds and assists to get his TD (the NBA kind of TD). Lin? He played just 20 minutes, and while this usually is like a set up for a smash volley rant about how he’s being misused, on this occasion it didn’t really make a difference. He hit his first two shots going into the game, but Steve Clifford toying with his minutes didn’t help him the rest of the way, going cold from beyond the arc and from the free throw line.
There were some nice things from Lin in the game, finishing with 5 points and 2 assists on 2-of-5 from the field. He had an impressive block/steal on Luol Deng and continues to show, even if it doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet, just what an important defensive asset he’s become. His timing on steals and interferences is fantastic, and while he isn’t going to stop the best point guards (or shooting guards) in the NBA from getting points or locking them down, he did a great job on Reggie Jackson this season and overall, has vastly improved his ability to stay with plays, which comes from being a lot stronger physically than before.
Lin helped Batum get his triple double. The Frenchman checked back into the game when he had 8 points but already the double figures in rebounds and assists, and Lin, with a fine alley oop lob pass to Batum, got him to that milestone. Batum, as usual, didn’t shoot very well in the game, to finish with 10 points, but a lot of the times it’s his passing that makes the difference for the Hornets, finishing with 11 in this game, averaging 5 per game this season. It helped that the Miami Heat didn’t make it their intention to stop anything or anyone on their way to the basket.
Interesting news parallel to the game come regarding Al Jefferson, who has missed the last four games due to a strained calf, is out for five games due to violating the terms of the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program. He’ll begin his suspension once he’s off the DL. The Hornets have gone 3-1 without him, and have looked much better playing with more mobility in the form of Cody Zeller in the frontcourt. He scored 9 points in 24 minutes in the win.