Among the first things Jeremy Lin did upon signing with the Charlotte Hornets was request Kemba Walker’s phone number.
“The first thing I texted him was, ‘I’m looking forward to coming here and taking some of the pressure off you.’” Lin recalled at practice Thursday.
That was true throughout the regular season and certainly so in this playoff series. The Hornets lead 3-2 over the Miami Heat and are one victory away from advancing into the second round for the first time since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004.
The Hornets signed Lin as a free agent last summer after making several trades that acquired Nic Batum, Jeremy Lamb and Spencer Hawes. The plan was to improve the Hornets’ ball-movement and the team’s 3-point shooting.
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Walker, who had signed a four-season contract extension worth about $48 million, was going to be the Hornets’ primary option at the position. But he was spread thin the previous two seasons, concerned with both scoring and finding good shots for teammates.
Batum has been a big help in that regard, but Lin, too. He’s third on the team in scoring in this playoff series at 14 points per game. Perhaps more importantly, he leads the Hornets in free-throw attempts in this series with 32 in five games.
Lin has seemingly gotten in the head of Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who complained after Game 4 about Lin getting calls with theatrics.
“We’ve just got to watch out for him because he likes to throw his arms into people,” Whiteside said of Lin.
Lin, who played in the NBA’s development league with Whiteside in Reno, Nev., declined Thursday to respond to Whiteside’s comment. But Lin, Walker and coach Steve Clifford all agreed Lin’s and Walker’s combined 59 foul shots have caused the Heat to shift its defensive philosophy somewhat.
“I think last game they were a little bit more committed to putting two (defenders) on the ball at an earlier stage,” Lin said. “Maybe not deep in the paint, but a little further out.
“They’re such a capable defensive team, with (coach Erik) Spoelstra being around for so long. He knows every trick in the book, so we need to be prepared for anything.”
The Heat won the first two games of this best-of-7 series decisively by over-guarding the 3-point line and trusting Whiteside to effectively serve as a one-man zone in the lane.
As Lin and Walker aggressively drove to the rim, that became harder for the Heat to do. That was reflected in the Hornets’ 3-point shooting in Game 5, when they made 12 of 24 attempts on the road.
“(When) me and Jeremy are in attack mode, getting into the lane, we’re able to dish the ball out and get some (open) 3s,” Walker said. “It’s definitely helped us, especially last game.”
While Lin usually starts games as Walker’s backup, it’s common for Walker and Lin to play together in the fourth quarter. That’s generally the Hornets’ best offensive backcourt and Clifford trusts Lin to defend opposing shooting guards.
For Lin, that’s nothing new.
“I played in Houston alongside Pat Beverley. I played in L.A. alongside Ronnie Price and Jordan Clarkson. I’ve shown that I can play alongside other point guards and be an effective two-guard,” Lin said.
“I felt like it would work between me and (Walker). The biggest thing is we both shoot 3s and drive. When you have that (at both guard spots) it can work.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell