Charlotte Hornets

Nic Batum elevates teammates with his second triple-double as Hornets dominate 76ers

Charlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum, left, tries to dribble past Philadelphia 76ers' Hollis Thompson during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Philadelphia. Charlotte won 100-85.
Charlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum, left, tries to dribble past Philadelphia 76ers' Hollis Thompson during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Philadelphia. Charlotte won 100-85. AP

Every Charlotte Hornet benefits from the creative and accurate passing of Nic Batum.

None more so than center Cody Zeller.

It’s no coincidence that on the night Batum assembled his second triple-double as a Hornet, Zeller was 7 of 8 from the field. There’s a synergy there that started in the preseason. Zeller thrives off Batum’s feeds.

The Hornets beat the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday 100-85. Uncharacteristically the Hornets struggled from outside the 3-point arc, making 7-of-25 attempts.

Didn’t matter. The Hornets dominated in the lane, outscoring the Sixers there 48-22 and outrebounding Philadelphia 65-45. That was in part due to the 76ers’ numerous injuries to big men – Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and (of course) Joel Embiid all sat out this game.

But it was also due to the connection between Zeller and Batum.

“What Cody has developed – and it comes from playing in a 4-out (offense) – is a roll game; he rolls to the basket now. A lot of that is Nic,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford.

I’m surprised this was only Batum’s second triple-double this season, because he seems to flirt with one roughly once a week. This time he was so efficient in the first half (seven points, eight rebounds and seven assists) that it was inevitable he’d make it.

He assembled all the parts midway through the third quarter.

One reason Batum might not have more triple-doubles: He doesn’t particularly care about such measures.

When he got his first one early in the season, he seemed surprised by all the fuss from Charlotte media post-game. He said he had plenty of those as a Portland Trail Blazer and it wasn’t something worth celebration.

That’s Nic. He loves basketball, but he’s nothing like a jock. Smart and cosmopolitan, he’s not the sort to define himself by numbers. (Though one night when he had excessive turnovers, he did joke that could have counted toward the triple-double tallies.)

[Box score: Hornets vs. 76ers]

Batum defines himself by how he’s contributed to a victory. His skill set is wide – it’s what the Hornets chased two summers ago when they signed Gordon Heyward to an offer sheet the Utah Jazz matched. That led to the misadventure of signing Lance Stephenson.

Then the Hornets got their man in a preposterously good trade with the Blazers last June.

Batum has so many skills he just fills in whatever gaps his team has game to game. Tuesday night the Hornets were without Jeremy Lin (sore lower back) and Kemba Walker looked a little tired, finishing the game 5 of 19 from the field.

So Batum took on additional playmaking responsibilities and how well that worked.

Clifford placed massive responsibility on Batum immediately after the trade occurred. Tuesday pre-game, Clifford said he feels Batum has played at all All-Star level for all of this season except when he was hurt over a span of the winter.

“He’s a great passer, with size,” Clifford said. “He’s got the vision to see over (the defense) and he can make every kind of pass. He’s a terrific passer.

“He doesn’t throw it too early, he doesn’t throw it too late. He just has a great feel for who he’s playing with and what they can do with it.”

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