Pretty much everything you get from Lance Stephenson was on display Sunday at Madison Square Garden:
The versatility, the defense, the fire and, yes, the turnovers.
He bordered on a triple-double in the 96-93 loss to the New York Knicks – 14 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. He guarded Knicks star Carmelo Anthony much of the second half after small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist left the game with bruised ribs.
But Stephenson also committed four turnovers, the last of which, with a minute left in the game, was costly.
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Still, this was more like what the Hornets anticipated when they signed him away from the Indiana Pacers with a three-year, $27.4 million contract.
“I’m getting more comfortable now,” Stephenson said afterward. “I’ve just got to be more consistent. I think I was better against Carmelo at the defensive end, but you’ve just got to hope he misses.”
This was very different from Saturday’s home loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, when Stephenson was benched in the fourth quarter. He’s still figuring out how to blend in without disappearing.
The Hornets are best when the ball gets to center Al Jefferson in the post, but that still leaves plenty of opportunity for Stephenson and point guard Kemba Walker. Sunday, Stephenson was more assertive in looking for those opportunities.
“I tried to make something happen. I let the game come to me last two games and ended up doing nothing,” Stephenson said. “I need to be more aggressive, be in attack mode.”
Offense doesn’t come easily to the Hornets, but the second half against the Knicks looked like the model: The Hornets shot 48 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range, scoring 22 points in the lane. Jefferson, Stephenson and Walker accounted for 19 of the team’s 31 shots.
“That’s the way we’ve got to play offensively,” Jefferson said. “Guys really attacking the paint, guys in good positions. I liked the way we were playing. It got us back in the game. Once you get it down low, you can create some wide-open shots.”
Stephenson sensed that, too.
“I feel like we played more together,” he said. “We fell short at the end, but we felt more comfortable moving the ball. We were that close to winning the game; we just didn’t pull it off.”
He grasps this all won’t be fixed instantly.
“This is part of being a pro – learning a new system, learning other guys,” Stephenson said. “You have to play through mistakes. I think once my players learn my instincts we’ll be a better team.”