Cody Zeller was the guy who cleaned up his own mess Wednesday, flashing to the basket for the winning layup with six-tenths of a second left in a 95-93 victory over the New York Knicks.
Twenty-seven seconds earlier Zeller had missed both free throws, handing the Knicks possession in a tied and taut game.
So when asked to sum up this Charlotte Hornets victory, Zeller used the term “roller coaster.”
Get used to that. This is Team Gyration. They will be more entertaining than the two previous seasons. They will also be more unpredictable in both their highs and lows.
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All coaches aspire to eliminate variables. Hornets coach Steve Clifford would love to know exactly which five players should be on the floor at the end of a close game. He actually considers that more important than who starts.
He acknowledged after the game that might not happen this season.
“The last two years we haven’t had deep teams, so there hasn’t been any question who was going to be on the floor late,” Clifford said. “We have more depth now. So especially early in the year, until it plays out, stuff like this is going to happen.”
By “stuff like this,” Clifford meant a lineup of mostly substitutes in the fourth quarter, with Zeller at power forward, Hawes at center and the Jeremys – Lin and Lamb – in the backcourt. They carried the Hornets to a victory Wednesday and a 4-4 record with center Al Jefferson shooting 2-of-10 and point guard Kemba Walker shooting 2-of-11.
This was the second night in a row Jefferson did not play in the fourth quarter, quite a change for a guy two years removed from being the NBA’s third-team all-league center.
Clifford assured that Jefferson is team-oriented and understands.
“It’s early season, he didn’t look in rhythm,” Clifford said. “Al has been on good teams before where he didn’t finish every night. Kemba is going to finish, Al will finish most nights.”
But not as it used to be. The Hornets went out and found shooting and depth and to not tap into those resources would be foolish.
So in the second half it was some Lin (11 of his 17 points), some Lamb (seven of his 14) and a big helping of Nic Batum (13 of his season-high 24).
Batum is an interesting case. I’ve compared him to fellow Frenchman Boris Diaw in this regard: He’s a great decision-maker with the ball who is more interested in finding others great shots than himself good ones.
Hornets general manager Rich Cho and assistant GM Chad Buchanan, both of whom worked with Batum in Portland, advised him after the trade to Charlotte that there would be nights when he needed to be less unselfish and hoist 18 shots.
Wednesday he took that route, making 10 of 18 attempts from the field.
“I try to involve everybody to start. I got one assist tonight but I refused a lot of shots to start the game, actually,” Batum said.
“At one point I thought, ‘OK, maybe I will not be a playmaker.’
“Tonight a guy like Jeremy Lamb or Spencer Hawes could be the playmaker and make me the scorer for a night.”
Batum’s strength has always been his versatility; you’ll never confuse him with the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony. But it wouldn’t be bad if tonight became a reminder Batum doesn’t always have to go searching for the perfect pass.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell