Charlotte Hornets

Cody Zeller gives Hornets a boost in preseason win against Clippers

SHENZHEN, CHINA - OCTOBER 11: Jeremy Lin #7 of Charlotte Hornets handles the basketball against Paul Pierce #34 of Los Angeles Clippers during the match between Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Clippers as part of the 2015 NBA Global Games China at Universiade Centre on October 11, 2015 in Shenzhen, China.
SHENZHEN, CHINA - OCTOBER 11: Jeremy Lin #7 of Charlotte Hornets handles the basketball against Paul Pierce #34 of Los Angeles Clippers during the match between Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Clippers as part of the 2015 NBA Global Games China at Universiade Centre on October 11, 2015 in Shenzhen, China. Getty Images

The goals for Charlotte Hornets power forward Cody Zeller over the summer were heal a shoulder injury, get a little stronger and heavier and develop a 3-point shot.

This was just a preseason exhibition across the world from Charlotte, but Zeller looked quite comfortable in a 106-94 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. The former Hornets lottery pick finished Sunday’s game with 16 points, 10 rebounds and hit a 26-foot 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.

Zeller made one 3-pointer in his first two NBA seasons. Hornets coach Steve Clifford needs his power forwards making 3s to help spread the court for center Al Jefferson to operate in the post offensively.

This was the first of two exhibitions in China for the Hornets and the Clippers. They play again Wednesday in Shanghai.

The Hornets are 3-0 in the preseason, having beaten the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat on a trip to Florida before leaving on the 20-hour journey to China.

Three who mattered

Jeremy Lin: Lin, of Chinese and Taiwanese descent, gave the Chinese fans what they hoped for, scoring 15 points off 6-of-11 shooting and adding four assists.

J.J. Redick: The former Duke star went off in the first half for the Clippers, making eight of 12 shots (4-of-7 from 3-point range) for 21 points.

Michael Jordan: When they introduced the Hornets owner and NBA icon with about two minutes left in the first half, the shriek from the crowd dwarfed even the response Lin received when he entered the game. Jordan’s only previous trip to China was 11 years ago.

Observations

▪  The crowd let out a spontaneous “Whoaaaaa!” late in the first quarter when Lin first touched the ball on a fast break. This is the first time Lin has played in mainland China. He scored on a breakaway layup to tie the game at 18-18.

▪  Clifford quickly started experimenting in this game with a Kemba Walker-Lin backcourt. If Lin can successfully defend shooting guards, that’s a way to engage offense from both sides of the lane so defenses can’t load up on Walker in the pick-and-roll.

▪  Clifford started Marvin Williams at power forward, but then shifted him to small forward to play alongside reserves Spencer Hawes (center) and Cody Zeller (power forward). No one player will fill the void left by small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s shoulder surgery.

▪  Nic Batum passed up an open jump shot late in the first half to rotate the ball to the other side of the court. Good intentions, but that would have been the best shot of that possession. Batum isn’t playing in Portland with superstars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard anymore. He doesn’t have to defer.

▪  Shooting guards P.J. Hairston and Troy Daniels both sat out the game. They figure to get time in the rematch with the Clippers before this trip ends.

Worth mentioning

▪  Clippers All-Star and former Wake Forest star Chris Paul sat out Sunday’s game with a finger injury. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Pablo Prigioni.

▪  Walker has switched his shoe endorsement from Under Armour to Jordan Brand. He’s one of three Hornets wearing Jordan’s shoes; the others are Zeller and Kidd-Gilchrist.

▪  Clifford started shooting guard Jeremy Lamb in place of small forward Kidd-Gilchrist, out for about six months. But Clifford is a long way from settling on a regular-season playing rotation.

They said it

“It’s up to us to turn that into success in a basketball sense – to get wins and make the playoffs.” – Jordan in a pregame news conference on how well the business side of the Hornets’ operation has done.

“You gotta work a little harder than that!” – Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, talking trash to Walker after Walker drove the lane for a shooting foul.

“I hope that was close to, ‘I love basketball!’ ” – Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, after opening his portion of Sunday’s press conference in Mandarin, charming the Chinese media in attendance. Ballmer did a lot of business in Shenzhen in his career with Microsoft.

Report card

A OFFENSE: Make shots and everything else looks easy. The Hornets made 48 percent from the field, scoring 42 points in the lane.

B+ DEFENSE: Any time you contain a team of the Clippers’ size to 18 points in the paint, you’ve done something right.

B+ COACHING: The preseason is about exploring possibilities, particularly with five more exhibitions to go. Clifford used Sunday to run a variety of player combinations.

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

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