Lance Stephenson didn’t play in the second half Tuesday night, and the Charlotte Hornets held on for a 104-103 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
That isn’t necessarily a cause-and-effect, but coach Steve Clifford said it’s illustrative of what will be his substitution pattern the rest of the season.
“From here on out, it’s sub-to-win,” Clifford said, adding that Stephenson sitting was primarily about Jeff Taylor being a superior pick-and-roll defender.
“It’s going to be a matchup thing here-and-there or if a guy is really hot.”
Translation: The Hornets are 25-33 with a slim margin-for-error to make the playoffs. While Clifford would prefer players know how much or little they might play, that’s a luxury over the final 24 games this season.
The players got the message about urgency. After finishing with 20 points and 13 rebounds, point guard Williams called Wednesday’s game against the Nets in Brooklyn a playoff-like matchup.
Two seats away center Al Jefferson (21 points and 16 rebounds) said Williams’ description was no exaggeration.
“Especially against a team we’re competing against” for one of the last two playoff spots in the East, Jefferson said. “We’ve got to be really focused on something that is hard to do: win (the second of) back-to-back games against a great team. But it’s got to be done.”
The Hornets didn’t guard well in the first quarter, when the Lakers (16-43) made 13 of 24 shots. But Charlotte clamped down defensively in the second and third quarters, holding the Lakers to 40 points on 12-of-40 shooting.
Despite that defense, the Lakers hung around, tying the game at 84 with just over six minutes left on Wesley Johnson’s transition dunk.
Suddenly the Hornets were under pressure from a team that doesn’t win much. This would have been a costly loss that would have essentially negated them winning in Chicago and Orlando, Fla., in that four-game road trip.
The Lakers went small, spreading the floor for point guard Jeremy Lin to create off the pick-and-roll. Clifford’s counter-move was having either of two small forwards – Taylor or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – guard Lin off the dribble.
Lin scored 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, but the Lakers never managed to take back the lead.
Offensively, Williams was tremendous feeding Jefferson in the two-man game. He matched a season high with those 13 assists. Jefferson played with Williams previously in Utah, and they are close friends after growing up together in Mississippi.
“That’s what is special about playing with someone like him,” Jefferson said. “He sees doubles just the way I see them.”
Williams hit a 3-pointer and five of six free throws in the last minute of the game to hold off the Lakers.
“When you put yourself in those opportunities you’ve got to play confidently,” Williams said. “I’ve never been afraid to fail – shoot it with confidence like you never miss.”
The same could be said of shooting guard Gerald Henderson (21 points and five assists), who hit a 3-pointer and a running 17-footer in the game’s final 41/2 minutes to give the Hornets the lead for good.
Henderson, not known for long-range shooting, has made six of his last 10 3-point attempts.
“The thing he does is bring purpose to the floor,” Clifford said of Henderson. “He always knows what he’s doing at both ends.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell