Back in his native Brooklyn, a place he hoped to get traded to earlier this season, Lance Stephenson took time to pose for pictures and soak up the atmosphere about 45 minutes before tipoff.
It was a happy moment for Stephenson, whose transition to being a key cog for the Hornets in his first season in Charlotte hasn't gone all that smoothly. He was the subject of trade rumors for the better part of two months, including in one reportedly proposed deal in January that had him possibly coming to the Nets.
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But Charlotte coach Steve Clifford thinks there's several reasons why Stephenson, who missed time earlier this season with a pelvic injury and is averaging 8.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists after signing a three-year, $27-million deal as a free agent, isn't flourishing.
"I think first of all, in some ways expectations were a little out of whack," Clifford said. "Lance played for one team, one coach, with the same teammates for four years. He's much more comfortable now. I think his injuries really have hurt him from getting into the kind of rhythm offensively that he needed to play well. A big part of his game is athleticism and the nature of those injuries slowed him down."
By having Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young in reserve roles, it’s infused the Nets’ second unit with some much-needed punch. In the six games since Young’s acquisition, the bench produced 45 or more points in four of them and that has created more balance.
“That’s been huge and that had been a problem for us earlier in the year,” coach Lionel Hollins said, “not having enough points off the bench, and having lulls. And we’ve been very efficient with those guys.”
Exactly three years ago Wednesday, Deron Willams feasted on Charlotte, posting a franchise-record 57 points in a 104-101 victory. Williams didn't exactly get all nostalgic when it was brought up, almost shrugging off the difficulty.
“You’ve just got to get hot,” Williams said. <“Players have scored a lot more than 57, so it can happen.”