The Charlotte Hornets held homecourt in a back-to-back with the New York Knicks on Saturday night. After coming up just short in overtime in the Big Apple on Friday night, the Hornets reversed fortunes and ended a losing streak with an exciting win on their home floor.
Let’s take a look at a few things that stuck on in Saturday’s win.
How quickly things can change. Charlotte went from beast in the East, to a four-game losing streak. They also went a fully available cast of players for head coach Steve Clifford to choose from on Friday night in New York, to a makeshift starting five that included Frank Kaminsky and Jeremy Lamb.
Lamb and Kaminsky joined usual starters Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and Kemba Walker. The change was forced when Marvin Williams hyperextended his knee in New York a night earlier and Nicolas Batum was unable to go because of an eye contusion.
It’s definitely not a preferable long-term arrangement, but it certainly did the trick on Saturday night. These five players started and comprised the most-used lineup for Clifford on the night. In 17 minutes of work, they combined for a plus-13 performance with only two turnovers to eight assists. Those eight assists in 17 minutes equaled the total number of assists from every other used lineup for the entire game.
Before getting carried away with the fantastic success of this starting five, it’s worth pointing out what appears to be both a correlation and aberration in that success. In the opening 3:32, a time span that consisted of just starters for both teams, the Hornets were plus-13. That’s the same margin that this makeshift starting five finished with for the entire game. That means in the approximate 13:30 of game time they played together after that opening burst was a net zero plus-minus. The point is that they did a great job, but only for the first couple of minutes. For the rest of the game, which was nearly quadruple the amount of on-court time played during that initial plus-13 burst, this group of starters just played even par basketball. That is a correlation.
The deviation, or outlier, is Kristaps Porzingis. The Charlotte plus-13 occurred during his first shift of the night. After he subbed out, the game evened out across the board. Porzingis did end up playing more minutes than any other Knicks starter and led all New York players with 25 points. He also finished with zero assist and, after that first 3:32, worked his way back to a zero plus-minus for the game. That means Porzingis managed to plus plus-13 basketball over the other 34 minutes he played, but had to go away from the starting group to do it. It might be nothing, but it definitely feels like an aberration.
Saturday’s win felt good for several reasons. The win ended a losing streak. It also was nice to see Charlotte get a win against the New York team they probably should have beat the night before. Walker played stronger basketball, earlier. Winning 107-102 has to feel a lot better than losing in overtime, 113-111.
And that 113-111 made for one of the very best basketball games any two teams have played so far this season. However, it probably shouldn’t have made it that far.
That’s the preface. See, the Hornets left a lot of points at the free throw line. A tight game that had several exciting plays by both teams down the stretch might have been put away much earlier if Charlotte was cashing in their free throws. Overall, they shot 63 percent from the line on Friday night. It was worst during the second and third quarters when they combined to shoot 10-for-17.
Zeller was 1-for-4 and Batum was 3-for-6. To be fair, it was just free throws during the middle part of the game on Friday. They also shot 2-for-12 from 3-point range during that same stretch. It was bad in a lot of ways. Thought the 3-point shooting might fluctuate, the free throw shooting is a consistent problem.
It happened again on Saturday night. Charlotte shot 29-of-42 from the line. It almost cost them the game. Despite a big game from Lamb, there was this:
Thankfully, the game was out of reach when Kemba stepped to the line for two shots with 0.5 seconds left. With two shots, he did this on the first one:
The Kemba free throw was basically just an add on after the game was already decided, but you still don’t want your shooters coming down the stretch in a game their set up to win, bricking their way to a W.
Now that I’ve chided Lamb for bricking an important free throw, he must be celebrated.
There has been a lot of contempt for Lamb since he was brought in via trade. He’s earned a lot of it with his play that never seemed to fully measure up to what was hoped for despite a strong start last season.
On Saturday, he got his first shot as a starter for the Hornets. Of course, he’s not going to stay there when Batum is healthy. He sure did make the most of his time, though. And he played a considerable amount of time, 35:58. Only Walker’s whopping 40 minutes was greater for Charlotte.
In that time, Lamb set a personal best for rebounds, then set a mark for most rebounds by a guard in the entire NBA this season when he finished with 17. It was a double-double effort, he had 18 points. The most impressive thing that stood out to me was his effort to grab offensive rebounds and turn them into quick baskets on a couple of occasions.
He did it on his own jumper in the first quarter:
He did it again in the second quarter, following a Brian Roberts miss:
The Hornets bench is a big question mark and will need to be called on frequently this season. Players like Lamb and Kaminsky will need to answer the call and make plays to help their team and not sure them. Hopefully, getting his first Charlotte start was enough to get Lamb rolling again. If he can recapture that outstanding sixth man form he had early in 2015-16, Clifford can breathe a little easier.
Speaking of Kaminsky, no idea why he felt like it was his duty to go at Porzingis over and over again. I liked it on Friday night, he legitimately beat Kristaps off the dribble on a couple of occasions, but on one instance he went straight up at the rim. That allowed Porzingis to use his quick recovery and unbelievable length to block the shot. If Frank uses one hand and goes to the left side of the rim, he might make it or get a goaltending call.
And still, after yet another Kaminsky struggle game for much of three quarters, he goes big in the fourth quarter with a couple of huge 3-pointers and another field goal that kept the Hornets ahead of a charging New York team. Without those makes, the poor free throw shooting might have done Charlotte in.
Beyond some streaky offense, Kaminsky also has shown good effort and positioning when getting switched on to guards defensively. It’s rare, but when he’s been put on the spot, he’s had a couple of instances of avoiding a foul, but also contesting a shot. Here’s an example:
Kaminsky followed Carmelo Anthony around the whole play until he was left on an island with Brandon Jennings. Instead of giving away free throws or letting Jennings have the mid-range attempt, he stays active with his feet and his balance centered, getting a hand up to close out Jennings and he missed the shot. There was a similar play on Friday in New York that I didn’t bother to track down. You’ll just have to trust me that it happened. Or don’t.
Speaking of Melo, he’s playing a lot like Dwyane Wade these days. Another team that I watch and write about is the Chicago Bulls. And Melo looked like Wade on Saturday night. Wade’s reached a point in his career where he can still use his fantastic scoring ability to get some big numbers, but he pays for it on the second night of back-to-backs. It hasn’t happened much this year, but Wade disappears if he even plays in those scenarios. Anthony isn’t incapacitated, but he certainly came out much more flat in game two of this home and home, missing a lot of open looks or shots that he had the legs to pop up and in the night before.
Lastly, speaking of legs – Marco Belinelli. He’s been a big acquisition this year, shooting a particularly accurate 3-point shot.
Look at how much energy Belinelli uses to get himself free. Then he can’t hang onto the ball, which makes him expend more energy. Then he does even more work to launch a really deep 3 to beat the shot clock – and drains it.
It always looks and feels better when the Hornets get the win, but there are also some areas where a lot of improvement is still needed. Hopefully, some of these good things continue and the bad things cease when Charlotte takes on the suddenly great Memphis Grizzlies on Monday.