The question of the day entering Saturday’s Game 3 of the Charlotte Hornets-Miami Heat playoff series is who will replace injured Hornets forward Nic Batum.
The most honest answer is no one will. Batum, averaging 14.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists, has the widest skill set on this roster. He’s out indefinitely with a left foot strain suffered in the second half of Wednesday’s Game 2 loss at Miami .
But someone will need to step into the starting lineup in Batum’s place. The two alternatives are starting rookie power forward Frank Kaminsky and moving Marvin Williams to small forward, or starting guard Jeremy Lin and moving shooting guard Courtney Lee to small forward.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford was undecided after practice Friday as to what he’d do. He did mention the Hornets have struggled to match up with the Heat’s size, which could work in favor of starting Kaminsky, a 7-footer.
Either way, Kaminsky and Lin will take on bigger roles in Batum’s absence, as might Troy Daniels or Jeremy Lamb. Down 0-2, the Hornets are running out of chances. Historically, an NBA team trailing 0-2 in a best-of-7 series wins only six percent of the time.
Point guard Kemba Walker, who has benefitted greatly this season from Batum’s playmaking skills, described just how important Batum has been to the Hornets’ success this season.
“Nic is a huge, huge part of what we do. One of our best players,” Walker said. “But we have other guys who can step up, make plays.”
Part of the problem will be how to adapt to Batum’s absence while still dealing with the threat that is Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade. Wade is averaging 22 points in this series and shooting 50 percent from the field.
Lee is probably best suited to guarding Wade, and even so, Wade has been a problem for the Hornets.
“Wade is big and tall and they are seeing over us,” Clifford said of a Heat offense averaging 119 points and 58 percent shooting from the field. “They’re making passes into the interior or across court, and it puts a lot more pressure on your defense.
“That being said, it basically comes down to your (defensive principles) – ball pressure, pushing and hand activity. When we’re right, we normally have 41, 42, 43 (ball) deflections in a game. The other night we had 27. We’ve got to be able to get those up.”
As Clifford said both postgame in Miami on Wednesday and at practice on Friday, the Hornets scored enough points (103) Wednesday to win; the shortfall is almost exclusively on defense.
The Heat has five players scoring in double figures in this series, led by forward Luol Deng’s 23.5 points per game.
“I’ve been the anchor of the defense all year long,” Williams said. “It’s really important for me to get right at the defensive end, and try to get other guys in the right position as well. And on the offensive end continue to take (open) shots. A couple of bad games have never flustered me. Keep with my routine, keep shooting the ball and when opportunities are there, take advantage of them.”
Williams, a 10-season veteran and arguably the Hornets’ most consistent player this season, has struggled with his shot this playoff series. He is 1-of-17 from the field, 0-of-4 from 3-point range and missed both of his free throws.
“I think, outside of myself, the offense has been there,” Williams said. “But Miami has taken advantage of our (defensive) breakdowns.”
Lin or Kaminsky?
A look at the alternatives to replace Batum in the starting lineup:
Starting Jeremy Lin: The potential upside is his experience (12 playoff game appearances) and ability to attack defenses and get to the foul line. Potential downside is getting smaller against a Heat team with considerable size that has caused the Hornets difficulty.
Starting Frank Kaminsky: The potential upside is getting bigger, moving 6-9 Williams to small forward, and leaving Lee at his natural position. Potential downside is risking that Kaminsky is up to this responsibility right now. He has taken only one shot in 37 minutes off the bench in this playoff series and missed it.
Hornets vs. Heat
Heat leads series 2-0
Heat 123, Hornets 91
Heat 115, Hornets 103
at Charlotte, 5:30 (TNT)
at Charlotte, 7 (FSSE)
at Miami, TBD
at Charlotte, TBD
at Miami, TBD
* if necessary; Note: Monday’s game also on NBA TV