Nic Batum sprained his left ankle for the second time in just more than a week and it’s not clear what his status for Game 3 – or the rest of the playoff series against the Heat – will be.
What is clear is, if Batum is on the floor and especially if he isn’t, forward Marvin Williams has to start making his shots.
In two playoff games, Williams has gone 1-for-17 for 2 points. Williams was 0-for-10 from the field in Wednesday night’s 115-103 loss to Miami, and he even missed his two free-throw attempts.
Just making half his shots and his two free throws would have made up the Hornets’ difference in the Game 2 loss.
“Take nothing away from Miami. They did what they were supposed to do and win their two games,” Williams said. “It’s going to be very difficult for us to win anything when guys are counting on me and I’m going 0-for-10 and 0-for-2 from the free throw line. I’ve been in this position before in my career and there’s no question I’ll bounce back.”
Batum injured his left ankle last week in the next-to-last regular-season contest against Boston. He missed the finale against Orlando two days later, and Hornets coach Steve Clifford said it was unlikely Batum would play even if it were a playoff game.
With five days of rest, Batum returned in the playoffs and looked like his normal self – the one that will likely earn a max contract this summer. But he stepped on Justise Winslow’s foot early in the fourth quarter Wednesday and, after a short time tending to it on the floor, limped to the locker room and did not return.
Clifford admitted he’s “very” concerned about Batum. It’s important to point out Al Jefferson isn’t a doctor, but he doesn’t think Batum will be back this series.
“I feel like me, personally, I don’t think Nic will be able to come back,” Jefferson said. “He’s a warrior and if he can work it out, he’ll be fine. Guys will have to step up.”
Jefferson rattled off the names of Jeremy Lamb and Troy Daniels as the ones needing to step up, but neither has played meaningful minutes this postseason.
The player who must step up is Williams, and he knows it.
“This team’s counting on me,” Williams said. “The last thing I can do right now is get down on myself. I know those guys aren’t going to get down on me. I know the coaching staff isn’t going to get down on me. Luckily for me, throughout the course of an 11-year career, I’ve had a few spells like this where I’ve had a few rough games or a few rough weeks.
“But the best thing about it is I know how to get out of it. You get in the gym and continue to work, and you don’t lose confidence in the work you’ve put in. That’s what I’ll do.”
Williams’ backup, Frank Kaminsky, hasn’t been any better on the offensive end. Kaminsky has attempted one shot in two games and has 4 points.
What’s made it difficult on the two of them is how Miami is playing the pick-and-roll. Williams and Kaminsky live off shots out of the pick-and-roll, and Miami is switching on both of them and making life tougher.
Clifford credited the space they helped create inside to Charlotte’s 48 points in the paint Wednesday, but Clifford can’t be pleased with them combining to go 0-for-11 on the night.
Williams couldn’t believe the kinds of shots he was missing.
“I could probably make those with my eyes closed,” Williams said. “It was one of those funky nights. I got some cracks at it. Obviously those were layups. I had two free throws and missed those as well. I’ll go back home and have 48 hours to get a couple good sessions in and try to get it Game 3.”
The Heat’s sharpshooting has only magnified Williams’ struggles. Williams made more 3-pointers this season (152) than in any other year in his career, and the Hornets depended on him as they became the fourth-best 3-point team in the league.
“They’ve been lights-out. Shots that maybe were not going for them earlier in the year, now guys are stepping up and they’re making plays,” Williams said. “That’s something that we have to do. I feel like we have a lot of guys doing that and I just have to join the party.”