- Ken Cross
Inconsistency Plaguing Hornets
Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford is a man driven by results in playing as hard as you can when you still have something to play for. The Hornets’ back-to-back this week illustrated the inconsistency of a team that is begging for players trying to step up beside Kemba Walker and maintain a consistency level every night. Tuesday night, against the length and athleticism of the Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte struggled. Once the Hornets saw their struggles, they were undone quickly by the Bucks, a team trying to improve their sixth seeding in the Eastern Conference. Surprising in that Charlotte came in only two games off eighth place Miami with Detroit and Chicago to leap to vie for a playoff spot. “It’s obviously disappointing and in a game of that magnitude when you have a lot to play for,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford, who saw the team fall to 33-41 on the season, “Our defense was beyond bad.” Milwaukee was 29-of-40 from the floor in the first half as the Bucks bolted to a 72-50 halftime lead. The length and athleticism of the Bucks seemed to engulf the Hornets and maybe frustrate them. However, for the games, Kemba Walker, who was 10-of-19 for 26 points while Frank Kaminsky came off the bench to score 20 on 9-of-15 shooting. Clifford, though, was concerned about the team’s readiness to play from a mental and emotional standpoint plus Charlotte’s inability to withstand the Bucks’ many punches early. “You’ve gotta try, you’ve gotta try,” said the frustrated fourth year coach, “It’s hard to play against a good team in this league when you don’t try. I thought Lamb did a good job; Brian Roberts did well. Aside from that it’s hard to pinpoint anyone who had enough of a care factor to win a big game.” Clifford, noted for coaching strong defenses in his first three seasons and also as a journeyman assistant coach, got the message across that as far as a team effort, Tuesday night’s game was unacceptable. Much of that m ay have been directed at a defense that was late on rotations and never consistently made close outs. “I think you should be able to play hard 82 times,” noted Clifford, “That’s what the good teams do. Up until this year, that’s what I though we would do. With the team we have been more sporadic in our effort. These are the games when the good teams show up. And tonight we didn’t.” And 24 hours late, in Toronto… The Hornets were facing a must win after the loss to the Bucks dropped them three off the eighth place spot. The inconsistency showed up in a good way as the defense was more on point in holding the Raptors to 38-of-83 from the floor. The key was performance in the clutch though as the Hornets scored 44 points in the final quarter and rallied from eight down after three for the win. Marvin Williams made a three off a Walker pass to tie the game at 98-98 with 2:43 to play. Walker and Williams combined for five triples in the last 2:43 to put the Hornets on top and keep them in the lead. So, where was this level of play on Wednesday? Did it take Clifford directly lighting a fire under this team to get them to step up against a bourgeoning Toronto team? Even the Hornets bench was on point as they outscored the Raptors’ bench 52-28 with Marco Bellinelli leading the attack with 21. “Our bench play has been our weakness most of the year and tonight it was very good although all year it has been a problem, said Clifford, “Marco was obviously very good.” So with eight games remaining and three out of eight, the Hornets are at the end of the tight rope. They have to play from day to day and be on point and focused every night.