Charlotte Hornets

Five questions for the Hornets with 11 games left in regular season, playoffs in sight

Charlotte Hornets guard Courtney Lee, right, has been a strong defender, filling some of the gap left by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s shoulder injury.
Charlotte Hornets guard Courtney Lee, right, has been a strong defender, filling some of the gap left by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s shoulder injury. AP

With 11 games left in the regular season, the Charlotte Hornets are in great shape at 41-30 to make the playoffs.

The question now is more about playoff seeding and a possible home-court advantage in the first round. With that in mind, posing and answering five questions about the current roster:

How is Courtney Lee working out?

A week or so ago Hornets coach Steve Clifford said Lee will be that much more impactful than he’s been so far. Clifford’s description was right on.

Since then he has guarded Miami’s Dwyane Wade and San Antonio’s Tony Parker to great positive effect. Also, he seems to be picking up where his open shots are in the Hornets’ offensive sets.

The Hornets acquired Lee at the trade deadline from the Memphis Grizzlies. He was immediately slotted into the starting lineup. He is not as versatile a defender as the injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but there are similarities.

Clifford says that, like Kidd-Gilchrist, Lee’s defensive technique is exceptionally sound. He can be trusted to give help against a post scorer without losing track of the man he’s guarding. He consistently closes out on perimeter jump-shooters.

Is Spencer Hawes all the way back?

No. He played 10 minutes against the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday because the Hornets were without starting power forward Marvin Williams (sprained left ankle). Hawes missed his three shot attempts and finished with three rebounds and an assist.

Hawes missed 14 games with lower back soreness. It was a debilitating injury that kept him from staying in basketball shape. There aren’t many off-day practices this late in the season, so there’s only so much Hawes can do to replicate game conditions.

The Hornets need Hawes, even if he doesn’t play much, as insurance at center. He’s working his way back, but this is unavoidably a deliberate process.

Should Jeremy Lin be a starter based on recent performance?

Lin had back-to-back strong games against the Spurs and Nets, scoring 29 and 21 points on a combined 19-of-30 (63 percent) from the field.

Naturally, that prompted some fan speculation about whether Lin should be moved into the starting lineup.

Barring an injury, that’s not under consideration, Clifford said Tuesday.

“He’s come off the bench all year. Most of his NBA career he’s been coming off the bench,” Clifford said. “That’s where it’s going to be. That’s his role.”

Is Jeremy Lamb back in the rotation for the long haul?

Tough to say. He did not play four consecutive games when Clifford gave Lamb’s normal minutes to Troy Daniels.

Daniels didn’t do much in those four appearances, shooting 5-of-16 from the field and averaging 3.25 points per game.

Lamb went back into the rotation against the Spurs and Nets. In those games he shot 3-of-9 from the field and averaged five points.

It’s not practical for Clifford to play both Lamb and Daniels, particularly with Lin getting some minutes at shooting guard. Lamb is longer than Daniels and the Hornets have made a long-term financial commitment to him. But, bottom line, neither Lamb nor Daniels has done much in games to create separation from the other.

Who would be the Hornets’ best first-round matchup?

In all likelihood the Hornets will face the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics or Miami Heat in the first round. The Hornets’ record against each: 1-3 against the Hawks, 0-2 against the Celtics (with one game remaining in Boston) and 2-2 against the Miami Heat.

The Hornets have won only four of the past 16 games against the Hawks. Much of that is about the Hawks’ abundance of 3-point shooting. That makes it difficult to give help on Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague as a penetrator.

The problem regarding the Celtics has been All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, who has caused havoc for the Hornets in the pick-and-roll.

The Heat would be no picnic, particularly in Miami where the Hornets have won just once in the last 12 games at American Airlines Arena. But Miami might be the best shot at the Hornets winning a playoff series, particularly if Chris Bosh doesn’t return this season from a blood-clot issue.

Bottom line, getting home-court advantage is probably more important for the Hornets than who they’d play in that series.

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