Jeremy Lin to play key role in Hornets’ playoff push

Jeremy Lin is averaging 11.9 points, 3.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds in his first year with the Hornets.

Sam Sharpe/Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — There are two minutes left in the third quarter. Jeremy Lin is propped against the scorer’s table, waiting for his chance to enter the game against the Atlanta Hawks. He’s only played seven minutes so far in a game in which the Charlotte Hornets produced the NBA’s lowest-scoring quarter this season.

Lin’s numbers haved dipped since his fast start to the season, particularly his shooting percentages over the past two months, but, as he proved in Atlanta, the Harvard product can be a difference-maker for Clifford’s group. In 21 minutes of playing time on Sunday, he showed efficiency scoring 15 points and shooting 57.1 percent from the field.

The Hornets still lost 87-76, locking them in a four-way tie for the No. 6 seed at 11.5 games back in the Eastern Conference, but it was one Lin’s best February outings. Hornets head coach Steve Clifford said the team can move forward if they bring a "readiness to play" every game.

Lin brought that readiness on Sunday, and he’ll need it in the team’s final 24 games.

This is a fairly new scene for Lin. The extreme highs of his run with the New York Knicks still dominate Lin-related news, but his teams’ playoff runs have been rare and short-lived. He’s still searching for his first playoff series win after two appearances with the Houston Rockets in 2013 and 2014. Now, following a mediocre season in Los Angeles, where the injury-plagued Lakers won just 21 games, the 6-foot-3 guard and his new team are back in the conversation.

Despite a difficult 3-2 road trip for the squad, the Hornets are on the right track.

Various injuries to the likes of wings Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Nic Batum and Jeremy Lamb, as well as the recent trade of third-string point guard Brian Roberts to Miami, have pushed Lin into key moments throughout the campaign. Lin has stepped up on defense since the team lost Kidd-Gilchrist for the season, and that’s likely an attribute he won’t abandon. If Lin can continue to improve his shooting numbers, there are multiple ways Clifford can use his versatility down the stretch.