All posts by Brian Geisinger

Get it to Kemba or die trying, Hornets need more from Lin

On Friday night in Uptown, the Charlotte Hornets had the opportunity to knock the veteran Miami Heat out of the playoffs, which would have given the Bugs their first playoff series victory in 14 years, and set them up to play the winner of Toronto-Indiana — the Raptors are currently in the process of self-fulfilling a really sad prophecy.

Neither team played especially well — foul trouble and injuries have derailed this series from having some of its top performers involved in high-leverage situations (Nicolas Batum’s injury, Hassan Whiteside’s foul trouble).

Whiteside was unstoppable at time on Friday — 5 of 7 shooting, 4 demoralizing blocks, 111.7 points per 100 possessions — but Game 6 will be remembered as a classic Dwyane Wade takeover performance.

The Heat actually had a negative point differential with D-Wade on the court: according to, Miami had a net differential of -1.9 points per 100 possessions with Wade on the floor. However, looking at isolated numbers like that doesn’t tell you much without context. Wade was obviously a monster in the fourth quarter; the Heat scored better than 1.1 points per possession with him on the court. He also buried three huge shots: two miraculous 3-pointers — his first connection from deep since last December — and a turnaround fading jumper with Courtney Lee, who has done a terrific job defensively, cloaked all over him — that turned out to be the dagger in Charlotte’s back, too.

If not for Wade’s absurd heroics, Kemba Walker would’ve stolen the show. It’s great having Nicolas Batum back in the lineup, but he’s clearly hampered with foot/ankle issues, and just isn’t the same player he’s been all season for Steve Clifford. He’s also questionable for Game 7 after playing less than 15 minutes in Game 6. Batum had some nice moments during game action, which was impressive considering that he was playing with a bad wheel and got basically no sleep following the birth of his child around 1 a.m. Friday morning (congrats, by the way, Nico!).

(Note: Batum was spotted warming up earlier this morning; he’s expected to play about the same amount today as he did on Friday.)

So just like old time, the burden is falling squarely Walker’s shoulders. Kemba’s a much improved player this season, and he was dynamic in Game 6, but with a gimpy Batum, and Jeremy Lin struggling and in foul trouble, way too much was asked of Walker. I was having flashbacks to the past two seasons; when Charlotte needed a bucket, it basically came down to, “Kemba, please go score.”

Oh my, did have ever score. Walker, who finished 14 of 30 from the field and drilled four 3-pointers, will never back down from a challenge. He relentlessly drove the ball, too. Check out his shot chart, courtesy of — he had 17 attempts at the rim:


Walker produced big time, despite frequent attention from Miami’s menacing defensive duo: Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson — both long-limbed rookies bent on making life for Kemba miserable.

The former UConn Husky scored 14 of Charlotte’s 20 fourth quarter points, while playing all but one minute that period. Kemba, according to Basketball-Reference, had a usage rating of 44.4 percent in Game 6. This means nearly half of Charlotte possessions with Kemba on the floor (he played 39 minutes, mind you), resulted in a turnover, field goal attempt, or a foul drawn by Walker. That’s far too high; during the regular season, Kemba posted a career-high usage of 26.5 percent.

Charlotte’s lost at Time Warner Cable Arenas just 12 times all season — they blew their chance to end Miami’s campaign in North Carolina on Friday.  Now, they’re down in South Beach for a closeout Game 7 early Sunday afternoon. If Walker’s going to receive help igniting the offense, it’ll likely have to come from reserve Jeremy Lin, who has played well for chunks of the postseason, but struggled in Game 6. Lin was only 1 for 8 from the field, with six of his eight points coming from the charity stripe. The Hornets scored just .85 points per possession with Lin on the court. His production, especially in the pick-and-roll, has to jump back up.

Get ready, folks. This should be a good one.

Marvin Williams returns to form, Hornets take 3-2 series lead

The power of the 3-pointer knows no bounds. In Game 5 of a hotly contested first round series between the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat, the NBA’s newfound discovery of this calculus was on full display. Miami outscored Charlotte in the paint (48 to 34), on second chance points (12 to 5) and in transition (13 to just 4). The Heat also attempted and made more free throws. But it wasn’t enough to overcome Charlotte’s decisive advantage from beyond the arc, which was the catalyst for Hornets prevailing 90-88 on the road in a thrilling game down in South Beach.

The Hornets were able to win two off the first four games of this series despite being unable to find their footing from deep. That, however, changed in spectacular fashion Wednesday night. Charlotte splashed 12 of their 24 three-point field goals (Miami was 5 of 18), and that’s why this series is headed back to North Carolina with the Hornets up 3-2, and having a chance to close it out Friday night in Uptown.

In the first four games of the series, Marvin Williams struggled: he shot just 19.4 percent from the field, and connected on only two 3-pointers. Charlotte won two of those contests, but Steve Clifford needed his power forward to get going, and Williams answered the bell. The former Tar Heel connected on three of his four 3s, and led the Hornets with 17 points, including a courageous three-ball with 3:07 left in regulation that gave Charlotte an 85-84 lead.

That shot came as the result of a beautifully-designed out of timeout play. Kemba Walker, who suffered another off night shooting (4 of 18), headed up the court, and initiated pick-and-roll action with Cody Zeller. As Walker dribbled to his strong right hand off the screen, Zeller set a pin-down screen to free Williams — defended closely by Luol Deng — at the top of the key for a relatively open look. Bang, three points. According to, that shot improved Charlotte’s win probability by 16.6 percent.

While it was nice to have Williams hooping on the offensive end, for the second straight game, Charlotte received some unexpected contributions from backup center Spencer Hawes. The man who rocks a man bun played nearly 15 minutes Wednesday night, and in that time, Miami scored a lowly .51 points per possession.

Hawes wasn’t the only Hornet who dug in defensively, though. The Heat scored .90 points per possessions last night — a number that would better San Antonio’s historically great defense. Zeller, for the third straight game, was phenomenal on the defensive end; Al Jefferson has held his own at times against Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, but Zeller’s strong two-way play is a necessity. On plays at the rim defended by Hawes and Zeller, the Heat shot just 2 for 9 (22.2 percent).

Nicolas Batum, who missed Games 3 and 4 while nursing injuries to his foot and ankle, returned. For the first time all season, Batum came off the bench — Clifford once again started a big frontline, including rookie Frank Kaminsky. Batum looked incredibly gimpy throughout the game, especially in the first half, but he made several high-leverage plays for Charlotte, including assists on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter — one to Jefferson, one to Zeller.

Again, Batum doesn’t appear to be that close to 100 percent, but he hit two just massive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, and he was a part of Charlotte’s best lineup that played more than 3 minutes together last night. Batum-Walker-Hawes-Zeller-Jeremy Lin posted a net rating of 34 points per 100 possessions during 8 minutes of action, per

Lin was heroic for Charlotte in Game 5, too. He couldn’t find his shot, but his playmaking was critical — handing out a team-high seven assists. Miami, however, did punish Charlotte at times when Lin was matched up with a bigger guard — in particular, Dwyane Wade.

This was as close to a vintage D-Wade performance as you’re going to get in 2016. Wade bullied his way into 25 points, and was wildly efficient near the rim: 7 for 10 around the basket. Wade got his — and dished out four assists — but Charlotte made him work for his production. The Hornets, in classic Clifford fashion — congested the paint and forced a bunch of turnovers, including five from D-Wade.

Charlotte’s best defender of Wade this series has been Courtney Lee. Since his arrival at the trade deadline from Memphis, Lee’s been a steadying force on this roster: a low-usage wing, who can defend three positions, run the occasional pick-and-roll, but mostly spot up for catch-and-shoot 3s. He also made the play of the game last night, too.

With around 30 seconds remaining in the game — Heat up 88-87 — Kemba drove into the lane off a Zeller screen. He was corralled by Whiteside and forced into a difficult pull-up two. Walker missed, but what happened next would determine the game: as the ball caromed off the rim towards Miami’s Joe Johnson, Lee — who was stationed in the corner — sprinted towards the rock. Lee snatched the free money, dished to Lin, who gave it right back to Lee. With 25.4 seconds remaining, Lee rose up and buried a 25-foot game-winning 3-pointer.

It took Charlotte 14 years to win a playoff game; they’ve now won three straight, and have Miami on the verge of elimination. Game 6 will take place Friday night. The Hornets would be wise to finish this off on their home floor — where they’ve gone 32-11 this season — and not risk a potential Game 7 back in Miami.

Linsanity and Kemba reign, Hornets even series at 2-2

Last week in NBA circles on Twitter, there was a lot of back and forth on who should win the Sixth Man of the Year award. The race was wide open, and you could’ve made a case for almost a dozen different dudes. If I had a vote, I would’ve cast it for Andre Iguodala; ultimately, Jamal Crawford of the Clippers won for a third time — just edging out Iggy.

During these discussions, however, there was little to no chatter about the Charlotte Hornet’s top sub, Jeremy Lin. The product of Harvard has been terrific during his first year with the franchise, and that continued Monday night in Charlotte, when Lin erupted for 21 points (on just 10 shots) in an 89-85 victory over Miami, which levels their first round affair at 2-2.

(Note: Lin finished 7th in voting for the honor, receiving one first place vote, courtesy of Sherman Hamilton of NBA TV Canada)

Once again, the Heat outplayed the Hornets in the first quarter. Luol Deng continued his one-man assault on these playoffs with 10 points in the opening frame; Deng constantly went at whichever Hornets big was tossed in his direction — Frank Kaminsky, Cody Zeller, whatever. Steve Clifford deployed the two traditional big men look again last night for the vast majority of the game, moving Marvin Williams to small forward. And for the second straight time, it worked.

Everything changed in a blink during the second quarter. Charlotte trailed Miami 26-19 after the opening period, but the Hornets bench helped lead a roaring charge back. Over the next 14 minutes and 33 seconds of game play, Charlotte ripped off a 38 to 13 run, culminating with an Al Jefferson layup that had Time Warner Cable Arena rocking. Charlotte led 57-40, which was their high-water mark.

Lin played a little over nine minutes in the second quarter; during that span, the Hornets scored 123.4 points per 100 possessions, and held the Heat to a meager 49.8 points per 100 possessions. Kemba Walker was special during this quarter, too. With Kemba on the floor, Charlotte scored at a rate of 1.38 points per possession.

For the game, the Hornets were +17 with Lin on the floor.

While Miami built a house out of bricks during this period — shooting 3 for 19 — the dual-point guard lineup of Walker and Lin (sounds like a decent law firm, for the record) raced away in the opposite direction. The two speedsters wrecked havoc in the pick-and-roll game and in transition, combining for 55 points and just four turnovers (Walker scored 34 of those points, making him the first Hornet to score 30+ in a playoff games since Baron Davis in 2002). That combination of controlled aggression is incredibly difficult to harness, but Charlotte’s guards worked their magic Monday evening.

Lin and Kemba shared the court for 26 minutes in Game 4; in that stretch of time, Charlotte outscored Miami by 14.5 points per 100 possessions, per The Hornets continued to struggle from beyond the arc — making just 4 of 17 3-pointers — but these two were so deadly efficient in pick-and-roll action that it prevented Charlotte’s offense from cratering.

All night long, Walker and Lin were impervious to the conservative one-man zone schemes Miami utilized. In their coverages, Heat big men were sinking under these ball screens; this is done in an effort to coax the ball handler into settling for a jumper. Charlotte, however, was having none of that. Kemba channeled his inner Russell Westbrook and went right at Miami’s bigs, while Lin got into the paint at will. Walker scored 11 consecutive points during the fourth quarter.

When Miami’s Hassan Whiteside hits the bench, a light goes off for Lin, attack. For the second straight game, the Hornets were without forward Nicolas Batum — a fearless playmaker who has a knack for finding open shooters. In his absence, Lin has more than stepped up, which should benefit him financially in about two months: Jeremy has a player option at $2.2 million next season. However, if he declines that option, he’ll hit unrestricted free agency as one of the league’s elite backup point guards.

After the game, Clifford couldn’t have been more proud of his team for figuring out a way to score points. So I’m not going as far as to say Charlotte’s solved Miami’s pick-and-roll defense, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some adjustments when this series swings south for Game 5.

Lin wasn’t the only substitute to have an impact on Monday, though. Zeller has embraced his role of coming off the bench now. By some metrics — offensive (111.2) and net rating (39.7) — Zeller was Charlotte’s best player in Game 4. These contributions were necessary because once more Marvin Williams struggled: 0 of 5 shooting, 0 points — his second game with no points this series (he has 14 total points through four games). Zeller was strong defensively as well.

On Miami’s end, they need to summon the energy they brought late in the third quarter and the early part of the fourth quarter — when they rallied furiously to make the contest a one-point affair at 62-61 — for an entire game. Goran Dragic, who spent most of the game missing in action, started making things happen, including a massive 3-pointer as Miami clawed their way back into the game.

It’s also clear that they need Deng to remain productive, and to be more than just a first quarter catalyst. In 20 minutes of action during the second and third quarters, Deng was just 1 for 8 from the field; Miami was -11 during that stretch, too.

Charlotte mostly ignored rookie Justise Winslow when Miami was on offense. Winslow, who is already a sensational defender, has a ways to go offensively. The Hornets stashed their slowest defender on Winslow, and for most of the night, that worked. Heading into the fourth, Winslow was 0 for 5 from the field as he tried to shoot over the top of Charlotte’s relaxed defenders. However, in the final period, Winslow attacked this coverage, driving right into the body of Hornets defenders, James Harden style. He was a perfect 3 for 3 from the field, including a corner 3-pointer. This is something to monitor in Game 5.

Finally, it’d be remiss to write a recap of this game without mentioning Courtney Lee, who once again brought productive two-way play. Lee played a team-high 41 minutes; he also led the Hornets in distance covered (3.06 miles), according to’s player tracking. Lee was everywhere defensively — contesting a team-high 12 shots, including eight 2-pointers. Most pertinent, though, Lee collected a super important offensive rebound with 58 seconds left, then on the next possession, following a Kemba miss, Lee sprang for another rebound and drew a foul on Deng. C-Lee then made two free-throws, which put the game on ice.

The first two games of this series were ugly for the Hornets. But after last night’s thrilling home victory, Charlotte’s evened this series at two games apiece. Game 5 is Wednesday night in South Beach. See you there.

Game 4, Heat-Hornets: 4 things to know

On Saturday, the Hornets defeated the Heat in Charlotte — the franchise’s first playoff victory since Ashanti was topping Billboard charts. It was an impressive 96-80 win for the Hornets, who were without the injured Nicolas Batum and reeling from two consecutive demolitions in Miami. On Monday night, Charlotte will look to knot the series at 2-2 before things head back to South Beach. Here are four key things to know before Game 4.

No Nicolas Batum

Welcome to Bummerville: The Hornets will once again be without star forward Nic Batum Monday evening. The Frenchman missed Game 3 in Charlotte following injuries to his left ankle and foot late in Game 2, but hope remained that he could somehow suit up as the Hornets looked to even the series at two games apiece. That, however, is not the case.

Charlotte proved over the weekend that they’re capable of beating Miami sans Batum, but his absence makes things far more challenging. Batum’s a gifted playmaker, and the ball just seems to swing side-to-side better when he’s on the court. He initiates a lot of offense for this team — usually pick-and-roll or curling off a pin down screen into dribble handoff action. Both of these looks get Batum moving toward the rim with numerous passing outlets.

His versatility and ability to create for others unlock this team’s best offensive units; he’ll be missed.

Steve Clifford will need rookie Frank Kaminsky and Jeremy Lin, like they did in the Game 3 victory, to provide some scoring punch to the offense. Lin, especially, will have to handle additional pick-and-roll responsibilities, which brings me to my next point…

Lineup adjustments

When Miami was running Charlotte off the floor during their opening tilt of the series, it looked as though the Hornets would need to downsize to keep up with the surging Heat. Some even floated the idea of going super small, and sliding power forward Marvin Williams over to center.

Without the ubiquitous Batum available for Game 3, Clifford had to get clever with how he rejiggered the lineup, which is something I wrote about in more detail yesterday in this space. Clifford did just the opposite of what most expected: he bulked up his starting lineup.

Williams was instead moved to the small forward spot, and Kaminsky, who was near unplayable at times in the opening games in Miami, was inserted as the starting power forward. Cody Zeller, a starter in 60 games this season, was moved to the bench in favor of low post czar Al Jefferson.

The starting lineup — those three front court players along with guards Kemba Walker and Courtney Lee — actually struggled during 14 minutes of action; Miami outscored them by nearly 19 points per 100 possessions, according to

However, things got funky in favor of Charlotte after Lin and Zeller got involved off the bench. A lineup of Lin-Kemba-Lee-Kaminsky-Zeller outpaced Miami by 50 points per 100 possessions. That five-man group, in seven minutes of action, scored 1.22 points per possession, which would rank as the No. 1 offense in the NBA.

When Williams played with Kemba, Lee, Kaminsky and Zeller, Charlotte outscored Miami by 48.7 points per 100 possessions. I expect we’ll see more of these units Monday night.

It was huge for the Hornets that they were able to play Walker and Lin together without being punished for it defensively — something that didn’t happen in the first two losses, when Dwyane Wade went on the attack.

The playoffs are all about match-ups. Will Clifford once again look to start Jefferson and Kaminsky? The Heat, led by coach Erik Spoelstra, will make adjustments of their own, too. When that happens, how will Clifford counter? Decisions on the margin, like this, are what swing games and series.

Can Charlotte finally heat up from deep?

In the first two games, the Hornets went completely dark from beyond the arc. This is a top-five three-point shooting offense, but down in South Beach, Charlotte lost their ways, shooting only 7 for 33 on 3-pointers — which included a ghastly 1 of 16 performance in Game 2. As it turns out, and this may surprise some, it’s not good to shoot this poorly from the field. Shocker, I know!

The Hornets got the win in Game 3, which is all that really matters, but they continued to slump from deep; Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams and Jeremy Lin combined to make just five 3-pointers. Charlotte’s shooting a paltry 23.5 percent on threes this series.

During the regular season, the Hornets made nearly 11 3-pointers per game, and shot 36.2 percent from deep. Against Miami in the postseason, though, they’ve yet to make more than six 3-pointers in a game. This season, Charlotte had only eight games of six or fewer threes. Clifford’s squad made 10+ threes in 52 of their 82 games; when the Hornets lost only 18 of those contest, too. This isn’t high-level basketball analysis. It’s a good thing to make a lot of 3-pointers.

For about 30 minutes per game, the Heat have Hassan Whiteside and his absurd 7-foot-7 wingspan patrolling the paint, which allows Miami’s perimeter players to aggressively switch and defend away from the basket — there’s a gigantic eraser at the rim to correct mistakes or overplays. Charlotte dots the three-point line with potent shooters, but Miami’s length on the perimeter is causing difficulties.

Can the Hornets, without Batum, finally breakthrough from deep this series? If so, it would make a major difference. Perhaps Williams, who snapped out of his recent shooting doldrums on Saturday, could provide a long-range boost.

Hassan White…out?

Miami’s stud big man is dealing with a thigh injury. He’s currently a game-time decision for tonight’s contest.

It’s been well-documented that Whiteside’s had a just massive impact on this series. He’s an incredible rim protector/defender, and he’s dunking everything in sight on offense. Whiteside’s shooting a comical 80 percent from the field — yeah, that’s realistic — and Miami scores better than 1.2 points per possessions with him on the court, per He’s an automatic two points when he catches the ball, and the attention he draws from Charlotte’s defense in an effort to prevent lobs and easy slams opens everything else up for the Heat. Lee has on multiple occasions totally abandoned the player he’s defending to help thwart another Whiteside rim run.

Also, the Hornets are shooting just 42.6 percent at the basket on field goal attempts defended by Whiteside. He’s played in just three games, but the product of Gastonia, North Carolina is leading the playoffs in attempts defended at the rim, too (47).

Behind Whiteside, the Heat are thin along their frontline; Amar’e Stoudemire, a fraction of the athlete he used to be, holds down their backup center minutes. After that, we’re looking at Charlotte Bobcats legend Josh McRoberts and Dorrell Wright — suboptimal substitutes to say the least. If Stouemire were forced into more action, Charlotte could certainly take advantage. However, I’m assuming that Whiteside will play.

Hornets win first playoff game in 14 years, Trail Heat 2-1

May 9, 2002. This is the date of the last time the Charlotte Hornets won a playoff game. The Hornets defeated the New Jersey Nets 115-97; Baron Davis, with 26 points, was the leading scorer. The late Robert “Tractor” Traylor played in the game. Richard Jefferson is the only participant from that Thursday evening contest still active in the NBA. LeBron James, who was a junior in high school in the spring of 2002, entered the league, and racked up over 46,000 minutes of game action, including the playoffs, between playoff victories for the Hornets.

What I’m trying to say: 14 years is a long time, and a lot has changed in the NBA. The franchise left the state, departing south for the Crescent City. Then the Bobcats became a thing a few years later. About a decade after that, the team rebranded once again as the Hornets. In the second year of that effort, Charlotte broke through Saturday afternoon with with a dominating 96-80 victory over a Miami Heat squad that had been playing better than just about anyone through two games of postseason progress.

The Hornets have been terrific on their home floor all season long; during the regular season, they won 30 games at Time Warner Cable Arena (the third best home court record in the Eastern Conference), and in the third game of their first round series, Charlotte defended their court, and they did so sans one of their best players.

Star forward Nicolas Batum couldn’t fit his swollen left foot in a sneaker (thanks to an ankle injury suffered in the Game 2 defeated) let alone play a game of basketball on Saturday. In the regular season, Charlotte scored five more points per 100 possessions with Batum on the court — the difference between a top-five offense and a bottom-five offense. Normally when Batum misses games, coach Steve Clifford will go smaller with his starting lineup, and insert Jeremy Lin in as another guard while sliding Courtney Lee down to small forward. Saturday, however, he did just the opposite of that. Instead, Clifford replaced Batum in the first five with rookie big man Frank Kaminsky. Marvin Williams, the team’s power forward, moved to the three-spot, and veteran Al Jefferson replaced Cody Zeller as the starting center.

This was a bold move from Clifford, who continues to prove himself as one of the best half-dozen or so coaches the NBA has to offer. I’m usually not a fan of upsizing a lineup to create mismatches. Look where the league’s heading — everything’s smaller and faster, which makes sense. It’s wise to get as much passing, shooting and speed on the court as you possibly can. However, Clifford laughed in the face of that wisdom, and went with a big lineup. Miami wings, who had bullied Charlotte’s perimeter players during the first two games in South Beach, found match-ups for posting up far less palatable against a longer and stronger Hornets lineup: Joe Johnson shot only 3 for 11 from the field, and only one of those buckets came at the rim.

Jefferson’s start was also likely an attempt to draw early fouls on Miami’s stud center Hassan Whiteside. In Games 1 and 2, Whiteside averaged 19 points, 12 rebounds and missed only two shots.

The primary concern, though, would be if Kaminsky, who struggled early in this series, could hang with Miami’s Luol Deng. Miami shot 74.4 percent in the first half on their Game 2 victory, but no one gave Charlotte bigger fits than Deng, who recorded 47 points on 24 shots in Games 1 and 2. It looked as though he was picking up right where he left off at the start of Game 3. The former Duke Blue Devils sank four 3-pointers in the first quarter, usually with Kaminsky a step slow closing out.

But after some initial shakiness, Kaminsky settled in on Deng. The Miami forward hit a three with a little under 10 minutes left in the third quarter, which gave him 15 points and made the score 51-47, in favor of Charlotte. After that bucket, Deng was held in check: he made only one more shot from the field and finished with 19 points. Kaminsky used his height and length to aid in some closeouts; he contested a game-high six 3-pointers, per’s player tracking.

Charlotte also communicated better, and functioned cohesively as the top-ten defense that they are. The Hornets held the Heat to only 84 points per 100 possessions, and when Kaminsky was on the floor, the Hornets allowed only .89 points per possession.

On the other end, Kaminsky punished Miami. During his first two playoff contests, Big Frank played roughly 37 minutes and scored a measly four points — all from the free-throw line. But in front of a raucous home crowd, Kaminsky was a different player. He missed on all three of his attempts from beyond the arc, but Kaminsky, who was second on the team with 61 touches, took advantage of the smaller defenders thrown at him. He was an impressive 5 of 9 shooting close to the basket; check his shot chart per


Lin was one of the best sixth men in the league this season, and on Saturday, he brought his usual aggressive approach off the bench. In a little over 26 minutes of action, Lin scored 18 points, drilled two 3-pointers, dished out four assists and didn’t turn it over once (more on this in a minute).

16 of Lin’s minutes came while sharing the floor with Kemba Walker. The dual-point guard lineup was a favorite of Clifford’s all season, but Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic punctured that smaller look in South Beach. Back in Charlotte, however, Lin and Walker were up to their old tricks, and the Hornets absolutely cooked with those two holding court together: outscoring the Heat by 35.4 points per 100 possessions. Wade went 7 for 20 from the field, and I’m not sure if he got back once on defense the entire second half. The All-Star guard was clearly frustrated and spent most of the fourth quarter complaining and gesturing at the referees while the Hornets raced the in the other direction with the ball.

Clifford really tightened up the rotation yesterday. Only seven players played more than 12 minutes, including Cody Zeller. The 7-footer recorded 60 starts this season, but if he was upset about coming off the bench on Saturday, he certainly didn’t show it. The third-year center recorded 12 points and eight rebounds. Charlotte was +18 with Cody on the floor. All season long, the Hornets have exhibited fantastic chemistry. Saturday in Charlotte, it was on full display.

This was not the kind of shooting performance we’ve grown accustomed to with the 2016 Hornets. They shot 39 percent from the field and made only five 3-pointers. Those totals don’t usually result in victory, but they defended and were so darn good on the margins offensively. Charlotte was an absurd 21 of 22 from the free-throw stripe and turned the ball over only three times. Miami, conversely, missed 11 free-throws and turned it over 14 times. This was the difference.

Charlotte’s three turnovers tied an NBA record for the fewest turnovers in a playoff victory.

This was a really entertaining game to watch, too. The home crowd was there for the Hornets every time they needed encouragement to match a Heat run. Kemba — who has assumed a more vocal leadership role with this crew, especially following the shoulder injury to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the team’s heart and soul — didn’t shoot well (4 of 19), but he was in constant motion. Recording two steals, seven assists and constantly imploring the home crowd to come alive. He even exchanged words on multiple occasions with Whiteside (I would pay good money to hear audio from one of their discussions leading into a timeout — it seemed spirited!).

Marvin Williams, Mr. Steady Eddie all season for Charlotte, finally announced himself in this series on Saturday, too. After shooting 1 for 17 in the first two games, Williams slapped up a double-double in Game 3: 12 points and 14 big rebounds. You could feel a sigh of relief in the building after he splashed his first 3-pointer of the series in the second quarter. This series takes on a totally different shape if Williams regains his form from the regular season.

It’s great to get the proverbial monkey off the back and win a postseason game, but Charlotte still trails Miami 2-1 in the series. Batum’s status for Game 4 is currently up in the air; he was visibly antsy while in street clothes Saturday, jumping at the bit to hoop in front of Charlotte’s booming crowd. The turnaround is quick, though. Game 4 takes place Monday evening in the Queen City. Can Batum come back so quickly? If not, can Clifford once again bank on Frank to hold his own against Miami’s go-go fours?

And on the flip, how will Miami coach Erik Spoelstra — one of the best in the league at adjustments — counter Charlotte’s Game 3 performance and lineups?

There’s a lot of basketball left to play, and it will be interesting to see how Miami responds Monday night. Let’s just make sure we don’t have to go another 14 years between playoff victories.

The Heat can’t miss, take a 2-0 series lead over Hornets

The Charlotte Hornets built one of the league’s most efficient offenses this season on a sturdy foundation of knockdown three-point shooting: only three teams made more shots from beyond the arc than coach Steve Clifford’s bunch. After seeing this production over the course of a full 82-game season, there was certainly no expectation for a drop-off once the postseason started.

However, a shooting slump has descended upon the Hornets at the worst possible moment — as they try to spring a first round upset of the Miami Heat. It’s been 14 years since Charlotte won a playoff game — let alone a series, and following last night’s 115-103 destruction at the hands of the Heat down in South Beach, things are starting to get desperate for the Hornets.

To make matters way worse — while they Hornets slumped from the field, Miami’s cooked from everywhere. No, seriously — here’s their shot chart from Game 2, courtesy of


Miami finished the game shooting nearly 58 percent from the floor, including 9 of 16 from distance, but that’s after they cooled-off slightly in the second half. The Heat shot a scorching 74.4 percent in the first half, when they took a 72-60 advantage into the intermission. Most of that damaged occurred in the game’s second quarter: Miami shot an absurd 16 of 19 from the field, and posted an offensive rating of 194.7 points per 100 possessions. This means the Heat were averaging nearly two points per possession. On a related note, my head just rolled off my shoulders. Miami looked scary good Wednesday evening, and that type of performance should spook every team still alive in the Eastern Conference.

On the flip side, Charlotte was a dismal 1 of 16 shooting from deep, which followed a 6 of 17 shooting performance in Game 1 — this coming from a team that averaged 10.6 3-pointers per game during the regular season. Kemba Walker was aggressive, and played downhill, especially when Miami big man Hassan Whiteside and his 7-foot-7 wingspan hit the bench, but he just couldn’t quite find his shooting stroke. Walker went a 1 of 6 on 3-pointers, and required 29 shots to get 29 points.

Marvin Williams, a pillar of reliability for Charlotte all season, has been cooler than a polar pear’s toenails shooting this series. In Game 2, Williams tossed up a goose egg: 0 of 10 from the field. He’s now 1 for 17 (5.8 percent) shooting in the playoffs, a ghastly development for a guy who hit better than 40 percent of his threes this season. This has to change if the Hornets want to even consider making a series of this thing.

Al Jefferson was the only other Hornet to score more than 12 points. The big fella slapped up 25 on 17 field goal attempts, but according to, Charlotte gave up 131.9 points per 100 possessions with Jefferson on the court. In the second quarter, he went 8 for 10 from the field for 16 points. Charlotte, however, was outscored by 10 points during this stretch.

In the preview for this series, I mentioned how I thought Whiteside would be a serious problem for the Hornets. The Gastonia, North Carolina native controlled the paint for a second straight game on Wednesday evening. The 7-footer scored 17 points and collected 13 rebounds. He also shot a perfect 8 for 8 on contested field goals (with a defender within 3.5 feet of him), and the Hornets hit just 47.4 percent on attempts contested at the rim by Whiteside — one of the league’s premier shot blockers. Through the first two games of this series, Whiteside’s shooting 17 of 19 from the field. Seems efficient.

The space around the rim may clear once Whiteside sits — he contested a game-high 21 two-point field goals, but the path to the hoop becomes more congested. Miami’s smaller lineups did a fantastic job corralling Walker in pick-and-roll action, which throws a wrench into Charlotte’s spread offense.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, one of the more progressive minds among the league’s coaching ranks, even threw out a lineup Wednesday that had Luol Deng as the team’s nominal center — with Joe Johnson and Justise Winslow occupying the forward spots, and Dwayne Wade and Josh Richardson as the guards. That five-man group, with no player above 6-foot-9, worked with wild success: Charlotte scored only 59.2 points per 100 possessions against Miami’s ameba-like bunch.

Admittedly, I’m completely in the tank for coaches in favor of leveraging their roster’s speed and shooting. I loved this move by Spo.

Saying Miami downsized is accurate, but it’s also deceiving. Because even when they remove Whiteside from the floor, they still have height mismatches at other positions. They invert the court and allow their powerful guards and wings — Goran Dragic, Wade, Johnson and Winslow — to punish smaller Charlotte defenders. This was especially evident when the Hornets deployed their dual-point guard backcourt of Walker and Jeremy Lin. Wade has a track record of attacking Lin, and last night was no difference as he made seven contested field goals, according to’s player tracking.

Speaking of Winslow, when this guy makes jumpers (4 of 6 shooting in Game 2), look out. He turned 20 less than a month ago, and he’s already one of the more rugged defenders in the NBA. Winslow’s going to be an absolute disruptive two-way force once that offensive game rounds into form. The disappearance of Marvin Williams isn’t just coincidence. Winslow and Deng — two Duke products — have made things challenging for the former Tar Heels.

At times, Charlotte mixed up their pick-and-roll coverages, ditching Clifford’s conservative one-man zone looks for a more aggressive approach — blitzing ball-handlers in an effort to trap and force turnovers. No dice, though, Miami recorded only eight turnovers last night. It didn’t matter. The Heat hit everything they tossed at the basket. Like Clifford mentioned poetically after the game, there’s not much you can do when an opponent can’t miss. Charlotte hasn’t looked crisp in the playoffs, but they may just be running into a buzz saw in Miami.

To make matters worse, somehow, Charlotte may be without the services of the ubiquitous Nicolas Batum, who left Wednesday’s game after spraining his left ankle in the fourth quarter; it’s the same  ankle he injured back on April 11 up in Boston, which is concerning. He’s currently questionable for Game 3. This team desperately needs his playmaking and scoring punch in the lineup.

If you’re a Hornets fan desperate for some semblance of a silver lining, here you go: Miami’s shooting has to regress to the mean. It’s seemingly impossible that the Heat will continue to launch hot fire from the field. Additionally, the Hornets have been sensational from the comfy confines of Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte; the team went 30-11 at home this season, outscoring their opponents by 7.4 points per 100 possessions during those 41 contests in Uptown.

No Batum, however, could potentially offset that. If he can’t go in Game 3 on Saturday, as the series shifts north to Charlotte, don’t be surprised to see Lin inserted in the starting lineup. The Hornets will also likely need to get production off the bench from another wing, like Jeremy Lamb or Troy Daniels.

Duke tops list as favorites for 2017 championship

Well, now that we’re less than 48 hours removed from the 2015-16 men’s college basketball season coming to a close, there’s only one thing to do: take a breath and reflect — perhaps maybe spend time with our families.


It’s time to starting looking ahead towards next season; yes, that’s right, we’re already predicting who will be cutting down the nets in 2017. And at the top of the odds list, no surprises: Duke (9-2).

The Blue Devils, using only a seven-man rotation, advanced to this year’s Sweet 16. They’ll lose stud freshman Brandon Ingram to the NBA and Marshall Plumlee to the Army, but everyone else, including Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson, will be back in Durham. Joining them will be the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, which features two of the top five players — Harry Giles (High Point, NC) and Jayson Tatum (St. Louis, MO).

Including Duke, there are four ACC teams inside the top ten for odds to win next year’s championship: Louisville (10-1), North Carolina (15-1), and Virginia (20-1). For a look at the rest of next season’s title favorites, check here: Wager Talk.

Grayson Allen Will Return to Duke for Junior Season

Mar 24, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks forward Dillon Brooks (24) celebrates as Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen (3) and guard Luke Kennard (5) walk to the bench during a West Regional semifinal at the Honda Center. Oregon defeated Duke 82-68. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 24, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks forward Dillon Brooks (24) celebrates as Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen (3) and guard Luke Kennard (5) walk to the bench during a West Regional semifinal at the Honda Center. Oregon defeated Duke 82-68. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a rough week for North Carolina fans. Less than two days after the Tar Heels fell to Villanova in the National Championship, Duke’s All-ACC wing Grayson Allen announced he will put off his jump to the NBA for at least another year, returning to Duke for his junior season in 2016-17.

His coach, Mike Krzyzewski, was pleased.

“We are thrilled that Grayson will be back with us next season.” Krzyzewski said. “Following the season, he put a lot of thought into an important decision that will impact the rest of his life. In the end, he chose to remain at Duke, where he will pursue an undergraduate degree and develop even more as a man and basketball player.”

The 6-4 wing, who hails from Jacksonville, Fla., played somewhat sparingly during his freshman season, when the Blue Devils won the 2015 NCAA Tournament; however, he blossomed in an expanded role as a sophomore. Allen averaged 21.6 points per game while shooting a team-high 41.7 percent on three-pointers. He was named first team All-ACC by the media and coaches while ranking second in the league in scoring, third in minutes (36.6 per game), and fourth in three-pointers per game.

After the season he had, which resulted in an appearance in the Sweet 16 for Duke, many thought he’d enter the 2016 NBA Draft. Allen, however, had other ideas.

“I talked with my parents and prayed about this decision, and I had the feeling that it was right,” Allen said. “I love Duke and I’ve made relationships with my teammates that will last forever. Coming back next season to play with them is important to me. Earning a Duke degree has always been a dream of mine, so I’ll also be working to get closer to that goal.”

Barring a transfer of some kind, Duke will return everyone from this year’s team, minus Brandon Ingram and Marshall Plumlee. Joining Allen in Durham next season will be the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, which features two of the top five incoming prospects: Harry Giles (High Point, NC) and Jayson Tatum (St. Louis, MO).

With Allen in the mix, and the return of a healthy Amile Jefferson, and the Blue Devils look to by the heavy title favorites for 2016-17. For a look at those odds, check here.