Charlotte Hornets

Backup plan: Charlotte Hornets show Friday how they might hit NBA playoff jackpot

The Hornets’ Cody Zeller (left) and Frank Kaminsky (44) celebrate after Marco Belinelli (21) hits a 3-pointer against Denver on Friday.
The Hornets’ Cody Zeller (left) and Frank Kaminsky (44) celebrate after Marco Belinelli (21) hits a 3-pointer against Denver on Friday. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

If the Charlotte Hornets are to make the NBA playoffs – and they’re still hanging around with a chance at doing just that – they’ll need more games like they had from their bench Friday.

The Hornets, with subs Frank Kaminsky, Marco Belinelli and Jeremy Lamb playing key roles, knocked off the Denver Nuggets 122-114 at Spectrum Center. They’ll need more of the same from a group that’s been inconsistent for much of the season over their final six regular-season games, a stretch that begins Sunday at Oklahoma City.

“We’re capable of coming off the bench and making big plays; it’s important we do that,” said Belinelli after he scored 11 points against the Nuggets, including nine (all from 3-pointers) in a pivotal fourth quarter. “We want to be in the playoffs. I want to go there. So everybody’s got to step up and fight in every game.”

Belinelli and Kaminsky helped put away the Nuggets, who led 94-86 after three quarters, with a 12-0 run to start the final period. Kaminsky scored 12 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, going 3-for-3 from 3-point range (he was 5-for-8 for the game). Lamb, who finished with 11, made the go-ahead layup with nine minutes left.

On nights where the bench has played well, we’ve been good.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford

“On nights where the bench has played well, we’ve been good,” said coach Steve Clifford. “Let’s be honest, it’s been difficult. We haven’t had good bench play. That why, again, we sub differently every night. It’s hard for guys to get in rhythm that way. But it’s the way we’ve had to do it. That’s the way we’re going to finish the year doing it.”

The Hornets (35-41) are two games out of eight place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. There’s really no wiggle room left and they need things to fall like they did Friday, when they won and the other competitors for that final playoff spot (Chicago, Miami, Denver and Indiana) all lost. It actually allowed the Hornets to move past Detroit and into 10th place.

The shooting of Belinelli and Kaminsky – both of whom can be streaky – has been key recently. They both picked up the Hornets in the second half of a victory at Orlando two weeks ago, when Belinelli scored 12 in the third quarter and Kaminsky added 13 in the fourth.

“I’m a confidence player,” said Kaminsky. “When I see one go in and it feels good, I feel like the rest of the shots I shoot are going in. That’s been the thing about this year, is (my shot) it comes and it goes but (Friday) I had it. Luckily I had it.”

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