As the Charlotte Hornets enter game 3, which in most playoff series with a team down 2-0, is the one that tells us whether there’s any reason to keep watching. Nicolas Batum is out, Jeremy Lin will probably start. Does this mean that Steve Clifford will try something new against the Miami Heat? Hard to say knowing his opinions, and the fact that Kemba Walker remains the guy he thinks is going to win him this series.
The Hornets are severely outmatched in terms of size and depth. If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was healthy they’d have more options, especially defensively, to trouble the Heat. But he’s not. And so the burden of keeping the Heat honest is on the offense, which has been terrible so far, even if they did score 103 points in the second game. Yes, their offensive rating of 111.6 suggests the problem isn’t there. Yes, it’s inexcusable that they’re allowing 136.9 points per 100 possessions. But the Heat are having such an easy time because of what the Hornets are doing on offense.
The problem with Lin entering the lineup is that it doesn’t necessarily change anything. Kemba Walker is still the point guard and Clifford, at least from what he said to the media in his press conference, doesn’t think the Hornets need to make a whole lot of changes. Now, this may just be his way of doing things without publicizing them, but it wouldn’t be surprising to consider he actually thinks the Hornets 1-for-16 from beyond the arc has more to do with shots not dropping than their planning being awful. He may think that the 238 points they’ve given up so far have more to do with effort on defense than the matchups.
With his blanket getting shorter and shorter, I’m not sure there’s an actual way of stopping the Heat completely. But the Hornets can punish the Heat for playing Hassan Whiteside, who has been a disaster for the Hornets, even when Al Jefferson has been able to put some fouls on him. And the answer is run, run and run. In half court offense, the Hornets haven’t been able to open up for three pointers with their stagnant ball movement, which is playing into the hands of the Heat.
And for that, Jeremy Lin needs the ball. Push the tempo and never slow down. If it doesn’t work, Clifford can always go back to Walker isolations and players holding on to the ball for five-six seconds while no one else moves around or dumping the ball into the paint. But this series isn’t going to get turned around just on playing at home and waiting for shots to start dropping. Walker can get his points, but as we’ve pointed out all season, getting it his way isn’t a problem for opposing teams. It’s when the Hornets get everyone else involved by creating a little havoc and spacing then it’s an issue.
Game 3 often offers false hope. Playing at home again makes things more comfortable for one time before the true balance of the series is revealed. The Hornets can make this into an interesting series only if they change the way they play. Either with Lin, or by telling Walker to try something else for a change. It will get others open, and finally, hopefully, pick up the Hornets three-point shooting numbers, which are at 21.2%. With all their other disadvantages, this is the one area where they can’t afford to look this bad.