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November 30, 2014

Three takeaways from cave-in night for the Charlotte Hornets

Three takeaways from the Atlanta Hawks’ blowout of the reeling Charlotte Hornets:

            Hunger Games: Gerald Henderson said he doesn’t understand how a team that had lost its previous eight games would lack a hungry attitude Saturday to end that streak.

            “This should be the time when we’re at our hungriest and we didn’t play very hungry tonight” Henderson said. “When you lose multiple games in a row and you come up against a good team but one that we beat, we need a win.

“When you give that kind of effort, that’s never a good thing. That’s not who you want to be.”

Unflappable: Rookie P.J. Hairston has a lot to learn still at the NBA level, but you have to like his sense of conviction. He launched seven 3s Saturday and made three of them. This team needs shooting range to open up the floor. He has that skill.

He needs to be a more focused defender, but he has the athletic ability to improve defensively. Don’t know whether he’ll end up an NBA starter on a regular basis, but he can have a long pro career because teams always need guys with NBA size who make 3s.

Vonleh will have his time: The #freeVonleh tweets are cute and all, but I don’t know that playing him now, before he’s ready for meaningful NBA minutes, would help him. Force-feeding Bismack Biyombo minutes didn’t make him better.

It’s obvious Vonleh has the size, athleticism and skill to be an NBA starter eventually. It was encouraging that he grabbed six rebounds in the fourth quarter Saturday. But keep in mind by that point the Hornets-Hawks game resembled Thursday night at Las Vegas Summer League.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 30, 2014 at 12:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (75)

November 29, 2014

Where things stand with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's foot injury

The Charlotte Hornets have said the earliest small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could return to action is Wednesday’s home game against the Chicago Bulls. However, Wednesday might be too soon considering the nature of his injury.

            Saturday’s road matchup with the Atlanta Hawks will be the ninth straight game Kidd-Gilchrist misses with a stress reaction in his right foot. A stress reaction is a precursor to a stress fracture. The team is very concerned about this turning into a fracture, so Kidd-Gilchrist’s injury is being treated with great caution.

“He’s doing well, but with that particular injury you’ve got to be careful and cautious because it could be (another) six weeks or eight weeks if he comes back too soon,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.

            Clifford said it’s too early to project when Kidd-Gilchrist could be cleared to play.

“I don’t think they’re really sure yet. They’re just starting to do more with him,” Clifford said. “He did some stationary shooting and the water workout. He can’t put a lot of pressure on his foot.”

Posted by Observer Sports on November 29, 2014 at 05:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Three takeaways from Hornets losing to Warriors

Three takeaways from the Charlotte Hornets’ 106-101 loss to the Golden State Warriors:

            Exactly when did they become an elite team? If you read my Twitter responses or many of my emails you would think the Hornets are coming off an Eastern Conference Finals appearance and have regressed to the Maine Red Claws.

            In October, when fans told me 50 wins and home-court in the first round, I said, ‘Um, no.” Now, when fans say Steve Clifford is on the hot seat, I say, “Um, no.”

            The Hornets weren't going to win 50 games. Forty-seven and the fifth seed would have been a nice accomplishment.

            Five of the top 10 players on this squad are new. They have had a brutal schedule that has allowed no time for practice. They have played a ton of games against elite Western Conference teams (two against Warriors, two against Blazers, one each against the Clippers, Grizzlies and Mavericks).

            Did I expect them to be 4-13? Of course not. Do I think the season is over? Of course not.

            Zeller is figuring it out: Good numbers in a fill-in start for Cody Zeller at power forward – 15 points and 14 rebounds.

            You know what I found more encouraging? Two fouls in 33 minutes.

            Zeller was having a difficult time figuring out how to guard NBA big men without getting in quick and constant foul trouble. He expressed his talent tonight without committing a bunch of fouls and that’s important to his development.

            Roberts wasn’t such a bad signing, huh? Brian Roberts was shooting poorly. He wasn't playing poorly.

            He was running the team (better than either Luke Ridnour or Ramon Sessions). He was trying to defend (despite being undersized.)

            And he was shooting horribly.

            Hey, shooting percentage is a big deal. If Roberts shot 27 percent for the season, fans should be upset. But this sample size was small.

            So does him going 18-of-27 in his last two games make him Kyle Korver? No. But he’s doing just fine.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 29, 2014 at 01:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (25)

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 (107)

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 (23)

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)