Charlotte Hornets

Hornets’ Steve Clifford likes the bench just the way it is

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, left, tries to get a hand on the ball as Charlotte Hornets’ Spencer Hawes reaches in during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Hornets won 104-95.
Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, left, tries to get a hand on the ball as Charlotte Hornets’ Spencer Hawes reaches in during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Hornets won 104-95. AP

If you’re a Charlotte Hornets fan shouting for the team to start one of the two Jeremys – Lamb or Lin – you might be wasting your breath.

Coach Steve Clifford thinks the bench this team has assembled is a distinct strength both now and for the future. He isn’t particularly receptive to messing with that unless the unforeseen, like a major injury, forces his hand.

The Hornets reserves outscored their Minnesota Timberwolves counterparts 55-23 Tuesday as the Hornets won on the road 104-95.

Lamb, the sweet-shooting guard-forward who recently signed a 3-year, $21 million contract extension, scored 14 of his 18 points in the first half. Lin played good defense on Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin in the second half, drawing two offensive fouls. Lin finished with 19 points, shooting 6-of-11 from the field and making six of eight free throws.

If you see that as cause to shake up the starting lineup, Clifford sees at as reinforcing the status quo. He wants a strong bench and believes starting his top five offensive players would only serve to clutter, with so many players needing the ball at once.

This team is 3-4, having incorporated seven new players into the roster. Of those, Lamb and Lin made major contributions Tuesday. More subtly reserve center Spencer Hawes played nine minutes of the fourth quarter as starter Al Jefferson sat out all 12 minutes.

Asked why he’s convinced this mix of starters and reserves is right, Clifford harkened back to the team two seasons ago that slogged into the playoffs, playing Kemba Walker and Jefferson marathon minutes. Jefferson injured his plantar fascia in Game 1 of the playoff series against the Miami Heat, leading to the then-Bobcats being swept 4-0.

"Hopefully (the starters) can play less minutes," Clifford said of bench strength. "You think about two years ago literally Kemba and Al were playing 40 to 42 minutes a night. That catches up to you. In many ways I believe that’s why Al got injured in the playoffs."

Clifford is coaching this team by feel and not holding particular obligation to when he must use certain players. He sat Jefferson down the stretch for the second time this season. While Lamb played very well in the first half, Clifford was convinced the defense and ballhandling Lin provided gave the Hornets their best chance in this particular matchup.

"I kept looking in the fourth quarter (for a way to reinsert Lamb) but Jeremy Lin was really the one who did the best job on Kevin Martin," Clifford said.

"That (second five) group was playing well and Cody (Zeller) was giving them trouble running the floor and rolling. It was about that group playing well."

Clifford figures it could be this way all season, with mix-and-match groups finishing games based on matchups and who is hot at the time.

"A lot of times you can have two true groups so (the same) guys don’t have to play well every night. You have more guys to score," Clifford said.

"For us to be really good we’ve got to have good bench play. Our starters are really good but our bench play is going to have to be what it was tonight."

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell

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