The Charlotte Hornets have a game 7 showdown with the Miami Heat. Kemba Walker can’t do this alone, although the Heat would love him to try. Jeremy Lin, good or bad ankle, needs to be the guy from games 3-4-5. Steve Clifford needs to be on top of everything. All the known clichés. Dwyane Wade and his group might be formidable, but they’re far from unbeatable, even at this point.
There’s always a good way to look at. Saying the Hornets were already down 0-2, and that getting to game 7 is something of an achievement. An improvement. A first playoff win since who remembers how long. That no matter what happens in this game, the Hornets have a bright future ahead of them, and this was just the beginning.
But a half filled glass has an empty portion too. The Hornets were up 3-2 and had a chance to close things up at home. Now they’re playing in Miami. And Nicolas Batum is a game time decision. Jeremy Lin might still be nursing an ankle injury that changes everything for him. And when you leave Kemba Walker so alone in terms of players capable of creating for themselves and others, there’s really not a whole lot to be optimistic about, right?
Assuming Batum is either out or playing hobbled, it’s on Walker and a bit on Al Jefferson. The interesting thing about Jefferson is that he does trouble Hassan Whiteside, but almost takes that plus away with his defense. Same as Walker. The Hornets don’t have anyone on the team capable of doing what he does in isolation, or anyone who can get hot like he does. But the Heat can live with Walker taking on such a huge offensive burden, unless it really gets out of hand (and there were some games like that for him this season). Interesting stat: In the regular season, the Hornets are 9-0 when Walker scores 33 points or more. In the playoffs? He had 34 points in the game 4 win and 37 points in the game 6 loss.
But Walker scoring 30 or 40 will not determine who wins this game. A healthy Lin brings a completely different dimension to the Hornets offense and while some might not like hearing it: The biggest wins this season, as in with the highest degree of difficulty, came when Lin was the Hornets best player in that specific game. Not necessarily the top scorer, but having enough minutes to put his mark on the game. It doesn’t mean cancelling out Walker or even denying him the chance to take 25 shots or more. It just means enough minutes of Lin, preferably with Cody Zeller and Courtney Lee by his side, doing what he should be doing on this team, and not standing in the corner, waiting to get noticed.
The defense has been fine, generally, in the last four games What needs to change or get boosted is the offense. Marvin Williams needs to wake up from his postseason slumber when the Hornets have the ball. Lee needs to make shots. Kaminsky needs to think it’s game 3 again, or for Clifford to look in his notebook and find out how that rabbit-out-of-a-hat worked. Maybe he should talk to MJ and Ewing again. Whatever works.
There’s no game 8. There’s either another series or going home. With a lot of players hitting free agency for the Hornets which means that once again, improvement one season may be followed by disappointment. But that’s forward thinking they don’t need to be diving into right now. All that matters is beating the Heat. With Lin playing well, with Batum healthy, with Walker playing like a someone with more than just scoring in his bag of tricks, and everyone else chipping in. It’s just one game, but it could mean a whole lot more for this franchise. If that’s what it takes to give the players a little bit of extra something facing a much more experienced group, so be it.