Five thoughts on the Charlotte Hornets’ 6-0 start to the preseason:
Free throws galore
The statistic that sticks out so dramatically over these six games: The Hornets have outscored their opponents at the foul line by nearly a 2-to-1 margin (138 points to 77). If this team’s ability to create and make free throws is anything similar in the regular season, it will be a huge plus.
Guards Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker combined for 16 free-throw attempts in Monday’s victory over the Chicago Bulls. Lin thinks there are good reasons the Hornets have been so proficient at this, so there’s no reason it can’t carry over to the regular season.
“Me and Kemba play downhill, Al (Jefferson) is going to get fouled all the time and Nic (Batum) is really, really smart with the ball, getting fouled on jump shots,” said Lin.
“One thing I’ve noticed is we’ve gotten teams in bonus really early out of quarters. Once you do get them in bonus, you just want to be even more aggressive because you know every time you’re fouled you’re going to the line.”
Lin said this is about more than how often the Hornets get fouled; it’s also about how seldom they foul.
“You have to attribute (some of) this to coach Cliff preaching a certain type of defense that doesn’t foul in bad situations. Obviously I didn’t adhere to these rules in the first half” when he fouled three times in 10 minutes.
Does the preseason record matter?
In any tangible way, no. Exhibitions don’t have the same pace or consistent intensity of the regular season.
But Clifford has seen a trait in his team this preseason that he finds encouraging.
“When they’ve been challenged, they deliver,” Clifford said. “When it got physical in the second game against the (Los Angeles) Clippers, they delivered.”
This preseason is wearing on the players
Lin said this preseason has felt like an “eternity” from the start of voluntary workouts in September until now. Obviously the China trip was a factor; Jefferson says he still doesn’t have his legs back from the 14-hour flight home last week.
Having acknowledged that, Lin said there’s definitely been a bonding among the players that resulted from them all being halfway across the world together for a week. That’s of value on a team with seven new players.
That fifth starter is still up in the air
Clifford said Monday it might be until right before the season opener in Miami before he selects a fifth starter to replace the injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. His three options appear to be starting Marvin Williams at small forward, or moving Lin or P.J. Hairston with the starters.
The advantage of Lin is adding another facilitator to the mix; that makes it harder on defenses if they try to overload to Walker’s side of the floor. The argument for Hairston would be a bigger, stronger defender. Clifford says Hairston’s defense has improved markedly since his rookie season.
Williams has the most experience and doesn’t need the ball a lot to be effective. But he’s more a power forward than a small forward at this stage of a 10-season career.
Clifford tightening down the rotation
Eight of 19 players on the preseason roster didn’t participate Monday. Clifford played 11, and that’s two more than he wants in his regular-season rotation.
The Hornets have two remaining exhibitions, Wednesday at the Detroit Pistons and Thursday versus the Indiana Pacers in Fort Wayne, Ind. Clifford intends to trim down to playing groups he will use in the regular season.
So decisions like who gets that last of 15 roster spots will be more about what happens in practice than versus the Pistons and Pacers.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell