November 25, 2014

Three takeaways from another of many Hornets losses

Three takeaways from the Hornets’ 113-92 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers:

            -- Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Hornets coach Steve Clifford said, in separate and totally unrelated interviews (Doc chatting pre-game and Cliff talking post-game) that the Hornets have a different margin for error in the Eastern Conference.

            That’s not an excuse for the Hornets going 4-11, yet it is also accurate. As of tonight 10 of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference are below .500. You don’t think that suggests 15 games into the season, when five of the top 10 players are new, that they might figure it out and make the playoffs again this season?

            -- I wrote some yesterday in Miami that Cody Zeller is figuring it out. Zeller showed tonight he’s starting to figure it out.

            He might never justify being the fourth pick in the NBA draft (which says dramatically more about the watering-down of the NBA draft than Zeller’s limitations), but he’s figuring out how to help.

            The Hornets say he’s a superior athlete with a high basketball IQ, which is exactly the description of Josh McRoberts. He’s not Josh  -- he’s not ready to be this team’s security blanket with his passing at one end and physical defense at the other. But he’s improving rapidly and that is a good thing in an otherwise shaky situation.

            -- So someone asked Clifford tonight why Lance Stephenson played seven minutes in the second half and Clifford says the ball is “sticking.”

            That is the term Clifford uses to describe poor ball movement. He went on to say that once the Clippers went small he thought the best offensive combination was Brian Roberts with either Kemba Walker or Gary Neal.

            Stephenson shot 1-of-8 and often he dribbles deeply into the shot clock without getting anywhere. Clifford thinks no one deserves courtesy minutes. He didn’t grant those to Stephenson tonight.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 25, 2014 at 01:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (25)

November 24, 2014

Doc Rivers: Way too soon to push Hornets panic button

Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers thinks the panic button is being pushed a little early concerning the Charlotte Hornets’ 4-10 start.

“In this day in time we micro-analyze every single thing,” Rivers said before Monday’s Clippers-Hornets game.

“It’s a process; you play 82 games. If in game 80 you’re still not right, then you have a problem. Fortunately they’re in the (weaker Eastern) conference where you can not get it right for a while and still turn it around. And they will – they are a talented team.

“They have a new piece (in Lance Stephenson) and I’m sure they’re still figuring out how to use that. That’s probably throwing them off a little bit. And they now have expectations, which can throw you off as well.”

            Rivers was Hornets center Al Jefferson’s first NBA coach with the Boston Celtics. Rivers’ description of Jefferson:

 “I don’t know if there’s a better low-post scorer in the league. If there is, there’s no more unorthodox low-post scorer in the league. I coached him and I couldn’t tell you what the hell he does. He throws up crazy shots that go in.”

Posted by Observer Sports on November 24, 2014 at 06:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Three takeaways from a deflating loss to the Miami Heat

Three takeaways from the Charlotte Hornets’ 94-93 loss to the Miami Heat:

            You’re frustrated, they’re frustrated: I got an emphatic sense of frustration from the fan base tonight on Twitter. I got an even stronger sense of frustration in the Hornets’ locker room tonight.

            I’ve covered 25 NBA locker rooms and I’ve seldom seen so many expressions of angst long after the place was open to the media. I’m not talking play-acting, I’m talking about real human emotion.

            Typically when an NBA team stinks it’s because they either are horribly over-matched or because they don’t care. I don’t get either sense from this group. By-and-large they’re smart, talented basketball players. And they really want to fix this.

            Right now they don’t have clue how to do that.

            Cody Zeller is figuring it out: I’m frequently asked why Zeller isn’t starting. Honestly that isn’t the issue. It’s more about who is playing when the game is decided.

            Coach Steve Clifford trusted Zeller to guard Chris Bosh on what became the deciding basket. Zeller did precisely what he should have done: Make Bosh take a tough, guarded shot. Bosh responded with a fadeaway 16-footer most players would not have hit.

            That doesn’t diminish the fact that Zeller is improving. He played 31 minutes tonight. He might be the best power forward on this team. But I also get why Clifford prefers to start the veteran each night and see how the game plays out.

            Again: I think starting versus not starting is a faux issue. Look at who plays when.

            Of course they miss their best defensive player: The Bobcats/Hornets are 10-18 when small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist doesn’t play. I’m not saying he’s their best player – he’s not – but that is telling.

            They were special defensively last season and they anticipated being special defensively this season. When you lose the guy who is arguably both your best individual defender and best team defender, of course you take a hit.

            Compound that by the reality Josh McRoberts might have been their second-best defender last season, and now he’s gone.

            People say “Get well soon, MKG,” and I appreciate that sentiment. But my reaction is “Take your time and make sure you don’t end up with a stress fracture, MKG,” because losing him for two months would really be a pickle.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 24, 2014 at 12:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (38)

November 22, 2014

Hornets injuries: MKG likely out rest of month; Hairston still out with a sprained ankle

It sounds unlikely that Charlotte Hornets small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will play the rest of November while recovering from a stress reaction in his right foot.

            Hornets coach Steve Clifford told the Observer Saturday he isn’t counting on Kidd-Gilchrist being back before the Dec. 3 home game against the Chicago Bulls. Kidd-Gilchrist has missed the past four games after a magnetic resonance imaging in Phoenix Nov. 13 showed evidence of a stress reaction.

            A stress reaction is a precursor to a stress fracture. The MRI showed weakening of the bone structure, but does not yet show evidence of a fracture.

            Kidd-Gilchrist said the day after his MRI that he wanted to be extremely careful to avoid this becoming a stress fracture. The Hornets are taking the same approach.

“We’re lucky that he said something (about feeling pain) because if he gets a stress fracture we’re in deep trouble,” Clifford said. “I think that is why they’re being very careful.”

            The Hornets will also be without shooting guard P.J. Hairston for Sunday’s road game against the Miami Heat and probably Monday’s home game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

            Hairston has a sprained ankle and Clifford said he’s probably two or three days away from playing. The Hornets play five games in seven nights starting Sunday in Miami.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 22, 2014 at 01:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (58)

November 20, 2014

Three takeaways from the Hornets' loss to the Pacers

Three takeaways from the Hornets’ 88-86 loss to the Indiana Pacers:

            -- Have you ever bought an old house? By definition it’s leaky. Either some water pipe breaks or the energy is escaping in the summer or the winter

            That is the problem with the Hornets this season that didn’t exist last season. Some nights it’s turnovers (not tonight, they totaled six). Sometimes it’s opponent offensive rebounds (bingo – 13 in the second half). They leak things that were never an issue last season That’s why they are 4-8.

            -- Twice in the last two days Steve Clifford has talked about Lance Stephenson “managing competiveness.” Call me presumptuous, but that sounds like code for, “He’s preoccupied with officials when he should be getting back on defense.”

            -- All the stat geeks who claimed Josh McRoberts really wasn’t all that important to the Bobcats’ success? Um, no. He’s not a great NBA player, but he addressed their flaws

Posted by Observer Sports on November 20, 2014 at 01:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (96)

November 18, 2014

Three takeaways from another blowout loss by the Hornets

Three takeaways from the Charlotte Hornets’ 107-80 home loss to the Dallas Mavericks:

            -- The Hornets reached the playoffs last season because they performed like the perfectly-behaved child: They committed the fewest turnovers in the league and the fewest fouls in the league and they led the NBA in defensive-rebounding percentage.

            Look at the statistics from Monday: The Hornets committed 13 turnovers to the Mavericks’ eight. They were outrebounded 50-35. They committed only one fewer foul than the Mavs (18-17).

            From very early on last season the Bobcats understood they couldn’t afford to deviate from the script. This past off-season the now-Hornets got a little more talented offensively with Lance Stephenson and P.J. Hairston. But these Hornets don’t have nearly enough firepower to get off their cues.

            I’ve been writing since the start of training camp that last season’s team had special chemistry that might not carry over. Some of the guys who departed – Josh McRoberts, Anthony Tolliver and Chris Douglas-Roberts – were important to that chemistry. It’s not the same, not yet anyway.

            -- It was interesting when coach Steve Clifford interjected into his post-game comments that part of the problem is players “either not handling frustration or disappointment on the court.”

            It sounded to me like he was talking (though not exclusively) about Stephenson. They knew they were getting an emotional sort and that’s who he’s been. When he feels he’s been fouled and it’s not called, he’s sometimes more focused on staring down the referees than transition defense.

            Austin Rivers scored a couple of layups on Stephenson in New Orleans, and no one compares Rivers to the Flash. That was about not shaking off what happened at the offensive end.

            -- The moment when fans booed loudly and with every right: Cody Zeller came down with a defensive rebound in the fourth quarter. Dallas deep reserve Greg Smith reached out and grabbed the ball away from Zeller’s grasp like a school-bus bully. Smith scored on a four-foot hook shot.

            I’m not singling out Zeller for criticism. But that play symbolized the absurd difference between these two teams’ readiness Monday and I sure understand why a paying customer would react the way the crowd did.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 18, 2014 at 12:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (52)

November 16, 2014

When you need your friends most: Gerald Henderson was there for Wayne Ellington Saturday

OAKLAND,  Cal. -- Charlotte Hornets guard Gerald Henderson flew overnight Friday from Phoenix to Philadelphia for the funeral of Wayne Ellington’s father. He then flew to Oakland, Cal., in time to play against the Golden State Warriors Saturday night.

            Henderson played high school ball with Ellington in suburban Philadelphia. Henderson played college ball at Duke, while Ellington played for North Carolina.

The two remain close friends. Ellington’s father was shot to death Nov. 9 in a Philadelphia neighborhood and Ellington learned of his father’s death as he was leaving last Sunday’s Hornets-Lakers game.

            Coincidentally, Henderson was there to console his friend.

“It’s a pretty tragic time when somebody passes away,” Henderson said following the Warriors game. “I went to the funeral this morning. Wayne was strong. I just had to be there for my friend. I wish our schedule was better, but I had to be there for him.

“This was something that had to take precedent. Wayne was strong. He had a lot of people come for him – to show love for him and his dad and his family. It was obviously a sad day but also a good day.”

            Henderson said he thinks it was fated that the Hornets played the Lakers that night so he could be there for his friend.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people about that, especially my mom,” Henderson told the Observer. “It’s no coincidence. He needs as much support as possible. When he found out, for me to be there, that was not random. Something like that is definitely upstairs.”

Posted by Observer Sports on November 16, 2014 at 03:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Hornets' Gary Neal talks about his concussion

OAKLAND, Cal. -- I spoke briefly with Gary Neal as he was leaving Oracle Arena Saturday night. He was diagnosed with a concussion after a fall in the lane during the Charlotte Hornets’ 112-87 loss to the Golden State Warriors.

            Neal said he’d been cleared to fly home to Charlotte on the Hornets’ team charter after being examined by the Warriors' doctor.

            Neal sounded coherent. He remembered the second-quarter play where he was injured, saying no one hit him in the head. Neal went up for a six-foot jump shot in the lane with 3:23 left in the first half. Klay Thompson blocked his shot and Neal fell hard, hitting his head on the court.

            Warriors forward Harrison Barnes dunked at the other end off the rebound of Neal’s miss. Neal lay under the other basket and the Hornets called a timeout to tend to him. At halftime the Hornets announced Neal was diagnosed with a concussion.

            Under the NBA’s concussion protocol, Neal will go through a series of tests, with gradual additions to exertion, before he’d be cleared to play again: From stationary bike to jogging to agility work to non-contact drills.

            Neal must be symptom-free in each step before he’d be cleared to practice or play.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 16, 2014 at 03:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

November 15, 2014

Three takeaways from Hornets' road victory over the Suns

Three takeaways from the Charlotte Hornets’ 103-95 road victory over the Phoenix Suns:

            -- Before this game Hornets coach Steve Clifford said his No. 1 concern these days is turnovers. They entered this game committing 14.9 turnovers per game, 17th-fewest among the 30 NBA teams. Last season they committed the fewest turnovers in the NBA.

            So look what happened: They committed seven turnovers in this game. Between the opponent, the injuries and being on the road, they easily could have lost. Instead they got their first victory on the road.

            Turnovers – they’re bound to get you.

            -- Looks like Clifford made his point to reserve center Bismack Biyombo: Either play with the right intensity and focus or don’t expect to play.

            Biyombo played his first meaningful minutes of the season against the Suns. He finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds in 14 minutes.

            You can debate whether Biyombo should have played sooner than this. But Clifford felt Biyombo had a lousy preseason and he got Biyombo’s attention by playing Jason Maxiell ahead of him.

            Clifford made sure to praise Biyombo post-game: “He’s capable of doing that night-in and night-out. He was motivated to play and a talented guy. He can help us a lot.”

            -- Lance Stephenson told me post-game his groin strain flairs up intermittently in a way you really can’t predict. The only treatment would be rest, and Stephenson doesn’t care to miss any more games.

            There was a good chance he wouldn’t play Friday, and he still ended up with 13 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 15, 2014 at 01:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (24)

November 14, 2014

Hornets' Kidd-Gilchrist out vs. Suns; Williams, Neal and Stephenson also might miss game

PHOENIX – Facing three Western Conference playoff contenders in the next four nights, the Charlotte Hornets suddenly have a slew of injuries to rotation players.

            Small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will miss at least the next two games with a stress reaction in his right foot. Additionally Lance Stephenson (groin strain), Marvin Williams (knee tendinitis) and Gary Neal (sore left foot) could all miss tonight’s game against the Phoenix Suns at U.S. Airways Center.

            This comes at a time when the Hornets are playing a rough, crowded schedule. The Hornets complete their four-game West Coast road trip Saturday against the Golden State Warriors, then play a home game Monday against the Dallas Mavericks.

            Hornets coach Steve Clifford said before Friday-morning shootaround that rookie P.J. Hairston will make his first NBA start tonight, replacing Kidd-Gilchrist. Cody Zeller will start at power forward if Williams can’t play.

            If Stephenson and Neal are out, Clifford could either start Gerald Henderson or start two point guards, since the Suns do that with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic.

            Williams was listed as doubtful Thursday after missing practice with tendinitis in his left knee. Neal slipped on a wet spot at practice Thursday, resulting in a left foot contusion. Stephenson aggravated the groin strain that caused him to miss part of the preseason.

“Mike can’t play. Gary wants to try, but I don’t see it. Marvin won’t play,” Clifford said before shootaround. “Lance is going to see how he feels in the shootaround.”

            The Hornets’ schedule is heavily front-loaded with 18 games in the first 32 days.

“This is why at this point in time we don’t practice that much. We do more in shootaround,” Clifford said. “(The injuries give) other guys an opportunity to come in and play. Still no reason we can’t play well and win.

            Kidd-Gilchrist said his foot started bothering him Wednesday. He got a magnetic resonance imaging Thursday that showed a stress reaction.

“I’m going to take my time coming back and make sure everything is right again,” Kidd-Gilchrist said.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 14, 2014 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)