Time to see what the Charlotte Hornets are made of or more accurately – if Steve Clifford watched and learned what he should from the first game against the Miami Heat. Less Kemba Walker, more Jeremy Lin, demand his defense to help in mismatches and yell at them to move the ball.
Sounds simple right? Well, if Clifford is convinced that effort and just having a bad night of shooting made his team look so bad in their 123-91 loss to the Heat, it’s not going to be pretty in game 2. The Heat took advantage of every defensive mismatch in front of them, slowing down only when there was someone in the backcourt capable of stopping Goran Dragic for a possession or two. There were other problems besides Courtney Lee and Walker getting dominated early on and maybe there’s enough time and quality to solve them all, but the Hornets can’t look as bad as they did in the first game.
Maybe all the “Kemba-bashing” as some might think we do here (simply pointing out his weaknesses isn’t bashing from what I’ve heard) will blow up. If Walker gets going offensively early on and simply hits his shots, no matter how little they have to do with a developing basketball play, it won’t matter that the Hornets aren’t playing the right way. Clifford has been relying on the good days from Walker all season long. But the problem with the playoffs is that coaches have time to prepare for one opponent instead of just winging it in between flights. It usually shows who is a good coach who knows to make adjustments, and who simply relies on a selfish scorer to get by, never realizing the reason the Hornets have done so well isn’t the points Walker scores, but everything else that happens around him.
Defense should be better in the playoffs because everyone suddenly gives more in every possession. But there’s more to defense than making an effort in man to man. It’s about knowing when to help and when to let a player handle his guy alone. It’s about blocking angles and routing certain players into certain directions. It’s about trying to make things difficult for the opponent. Very few players on the Hornets did that in the series opening loss, and such disconnect between those who actually tried to make a difference defensively and those who were made into mince meat by the Heat time after time is fatal if it continues.
Going on another terrible start against the Heat will mean it doesn’t matter when Clifford introduces Lin to the game and how many minutes he plays. It might already be too late, as he plans to change nothing with his lineup. Lets forget about personnel for a moment. Clifford can’t seriously be thinking that sticking to the plan he had in game 1 is going to work 72 hours later, is he?
We keep mentioning Lin, but there’s a lot more to it. Nicolas Batum can’t play like he’s trying to save the day with his shooting. Frank Kaminsky, at this point, shouldn’t be allowed on the basketball floor. Yes, there’s not a whole lot of other options and creative freedom for Clifford to utilize as he tries to save his team from heading towards another first round sweep, but it’s pretty much impossible to do worse than he did as a coach in both game management and preparation than he did in the first game.