If the Charlotte Hornets are going to end the NBA’s longest playoff drought, games like Friday night just can’t happen.
While it’s easy to brush off now because it came mere days after the season opener, when the Hornets reflect on outings such as their 111-99 loss to the Detroit Pistons at Spectrum Center in six months, Charlotte could be singing a different tune.
Instead of picking up where they left off two days earlier, the Hornets were somewhat lethargic against Detroit. Cold shooting, unforced errors and an overall inability to limit second-chance points doomed Charlotte (1-1) and left the crowd of 15,855 with little to cheer about until the Hornets’ late-game charge.
“We got badly outphysicaled on the glass,” coach Steve Clifford said. “I talked about being prepared to play — we can’t be turning the ball over. If you are going to give up second-chance points 18-7, that’s the game. That’s the game.
“Any sense of a game where you can be a really good team. We have enough offensive firepower. We can win, whatever, enough to get in there and play in the play-in. You’re not going to win. You are not going to play a big game without physicality and that’s what this thing is all about — building a game where you are good at all of it.”
Apparently, the Hornets are in need of a little more practice. Detroit took it to them.
“They came and hit first,” LaMelo Ball said. “and then it seemed like when we tried to get physical back, we were getting called. It pretty much didn’t go our way.”
Not at all.
“I mean, (shoot), we were trying,” Ball said. “Every time you get physical, though, it’s a call and their way it’s no call. So, that’s a tough one.”
Here are some of the things the Hornets had to say about their first loss of the season:
Simple, if you ask Clifford.
“Obviously, the two biggest things we need to fix,” he said, “are the turnovers and the rebounding.”
The Hornets are averaging 18.5 turnovers per game and have yielded 42 points off of them. That’s unacceptable and must be corrected immediately.
“I think (it’s) moving too fast, I think just some spacing issues,” Gordon Hayward said. “Guys are trying to make plays, but the spacing is not right and now it’s two defenders to the ball and now there’s hands in there …
“If we don’t have space, we are just making it tough on ourselves. So, we’ve got to figure that out and we’ve got to share the ball, too. Just make the easy simple reads.”
Through two games, it’s not difficult to figure out who’s the Hornets’ sixth man.
Clifford summoned Brandon Miller off the bench first yet again, turning to the rookie to provide a spark for Charlotte’s lethargic early game offense. After his solid 13-point debut against the Hawks, Miller followed that up with a new career best, tossing in 17 points. He also had six rebounds and two assists.
“He can score in a lot of different ways,” Clifford said. “He also competes hard and plays well at both ends of the floor. Thirty-three minutes — he’s going to play big minutes. I don’t look at him when he’s out there as inexperienced or anything like that. He’s really good, and we’re lucky to have him. He’s going to be on the floor.”
Still, there were a couple of growing pains. Miller has to adapt to some of the NBA’s defensive rules. He was called for a defensive three seconds because he was positioned just inside the lane but wasn’t actively guarding an opponent within the allotted time period.
He also got whistled for stepping out of bounds as he was about to uncork a 3-pointer with the Hornets trailing by six with just over eight minutes remaining. But his teammates are impressed with his steady progress.
“He’s been great,” Hayward said. “I feel like he’s gotten better each game, from that first preseason game to now, and I think he’ll only get better. Just because he’ll have these experiences and that will help him in his adjustment to this level. But he’s been really good defensively, he’s rebounding and starting the break for us when he’s knocking down shots. He just makes us so much more dynamic. So, he’s looking really good.”
Jalen Duren vs. Mark Williams
Whether he likes it or not, Mark Williams is going to be tied to Jalen Duren.
On NBA Draft night in 2022, the Hornets picked Duren with the 13th selection before trading the 6-foot-11, 250-pounder to the New York Knicks in a three-team deal with Detroit as part of a larger package that included former Hornet Kemba Walker going to the Pistons prior to them waiving him.
The Hornets also received Denver’s 2023 first-round pick and four second-round picks, including New York’s 2024 second-round selection, in the package. So, it’s too early to determine who got the better end of the deal.
But Duren, without a doubt, got the best of Williams in this most recent matchup. Duren had a double-double, pumping in 14 points and snatching 17 rebounds.
Williams was essentially a nonfactor with five fouls, two points and three rebounds. He didn’t even attempt a shot in the first quarter while Duren started out hot, pumping in seven points and snaring six rebounds. Williams wasn’t assertive at all. He never really looked at the rim for the bulk of the game and his first field goal came with 3:36 remaining before halftime.
Not exactly inspiring stuff on the heels of Williams’ 13-point, 15-rebound effort against Atlanta. Nick Richards wasn’t much better in his 16 minutes off the bench.
Duren simply had his way.
“Guys got to be more ready,” Clifford said. “If that’s your matchup and that’s his biggest strength, you’ve got to be able to keep his ass off the glass. It’s pretty simple. That’s the way this league works. It’s like giving a great shooter wide-open shots. So, that’s it.
“Anything that was close in there, he got. There’s two things that you look at to me when you play a guy that is an exceptional rebounder: It’s how many you get, but it’s how many he gets. So, in this case, our guys didn’t get many and he got them all. So, that’s a problem.”