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December 31, 2014

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford on the decision to shut down center Al Jefferson

HOUSTON – The decision to shut down Charlotte Hornets center Al Jefferson was essentially made at halftime of Monday’s overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

            That according to Hornets coach Steve Clifford, who said he and head athletic trainer Steve Stricker agreed Jefferson’s groin injury was too debilitating to let him keep playing.

            “At halftime we spoke and agreed that we were going to sit Al down and say, ‘We appreciate you want to play, but…’ ” Clifford said pre-game Wednesday.

“It’s great that he wants to be out there and is team-first and wants to play. But he just can’t move.”

Clifford had said at Monday-morning shootaround he’d been told Jefferson wasn’t at risk of further injuring himself by playing.

The Hornets announced Tuesday night that Jefferson will miss at least four weeks after being diagnosed with a strained adductor muscle in his left groin. Clifford said Jefferson would still be trying to tough through the injury if the team gave him that option.

“It was cumulative,” Clifford said of the injury’s effect, “I think it if was up to him right now, he’d still try to play.”

            Clifford said the four-week time frame is just a rough estimate.

“A month, they don’t really know that,” Clifford said. “It’s going to be about when he feels better. He was having the same problems (Dec. 26) in Oklahoma City; he just can’t pivot off that (left) foot, which is such a big part of his game.”

Posted by Observer Sports on December 31, 2014 at 06:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

December 30, 2014

Three takeaways from a failed comeback against the Milwaukee Bucks

            Three takeaways after the Charlotte Hornets failed to close the deal in a home comeback against the Milwaukee Bucks:

            Toughness balanced with judgment: It’s admirable that center Al Jefferson wants to keep playing with a groin strain. But is it wise?

            Jefferson had to leave the game with about seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, never to return. Everything about his body language as he walked to the trainer’s room said “pain” and “debilitation.”

            Prior to that Jefferson had totaled six points on 3-of-12 shooting. Yes, the Bucks were double-teaming him aggressively, but its obvious Jefferson isn’t functioning normally.  So the question becomes not whether he can play, but whether he should.

            Boxed into small ball: Hornets coach Steve Clifford has frequently said he dislikes playing small ball. Yet he spent much of the second half playing point guards Kemba Walker and Brian Roberts together, with Gerald Henderson at small forward.

            Clifford felt he had no choice because that was his best offensive unit among limited options and they had to make up a big deficit. But it goes against his grain.

            “There’s what you want to do and what you have to do,” Clifford said. “We’ll have to play small some.”

            I buy his answer but I’m not sure playing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist just 10 minutes in the second half was a good choice.

            Marvin Williams brought it tonight: I wonder all the time whether the Hornets overpaid to sign Williams after Josh McRoberts chose the Miami Heat. But tonight he more than earned his wage.

            An under-sized power forward grabbed 14 rebounds. Williams is limited and hardly ever gets to the foul line (a pretty valuable NBA skill). But he’s smart, adaptive and professional.

Posted by Observer Sports on December 30, 2014 at 12:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (26)

December 29, 2014

Hornets coach Steve Clifford on Jeff Taylor's and Noah Vonleh's D-League assignments

            Jeff Taylor and Noah Vonleh need to play more. That wasn’t going to happen anytime soon with the Charlotte Hornets.

            So each is headed to an NBA Development League franchise to play three or four games. Taylor is joining the Austin (Texas) Toros and rookie Vonleh is joining the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants.

            Their circumstances are somewhat different. Taylor is a third-season veteran who – between a ruptured Achilles tendon and a 24-game NBA suspension – has missed most of the past year. Vonleh is a 19-year-old rookie who missed the preseason due to a sports hernia.

            “Jeff badly wants to play. He doesn’t feel like he’s comfortable where he’s at as far as playing. So to me (a D-League assignment) is a great idea,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “He didn’t play for a long time. We practice, but we don’t do a lot of contact, so it’s hard for him to get what he needs.”

            Clifford said Vonleh is still adapting to the NBA game. The defensive strategies are very different from college ball, and Noah hasn’t yet grasped what he needs to know to play meaningful NBA minutes.

“He’s never played an NBA-rules games. One of (fellow rookie) P.J. (Hairston’s)  advantages, and you could see it in summer league, was he’d played in the D-League, where they have defensive 3 (seconds) and pick-and-roll (defensive) calls.

“The hardest thing for younger players isn’t offense, its defense. That’s where Noah is way behind. The defense is totally different from college, primarily because of the pick-and-roll game.”

            Vonleh has played a total of 32 minutes this season, spread over four games, all of them decided before he was inserted.

“I don’t agree at all that playing is necessarily good for a young player. Playing well when you’re ready to play is good for a young player,” Clifford said of Vonleh.

“If you don’t know how to go from one thing to the next, it makes it hard: Hard for you and very hard on the other four guys out there.”

Posted by Observer Sports on December 29, 2014 at 12:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

December 28, 2014

Noah Vonleh, Jeffery Taylor assigned to D-League

Charlotte Hornets forwards Noah Vonleh and Jeffery Taylor were assigned to the NBA D-League, the team announced Sunday.


Vonleh, a 6-foot-10 rookie who has played sparingly since recovering from a surgery to repair a sports hernia, will play for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Vonleh, the ninth overall pick of the 2014 draft out of Indiana, has only played 32 minutes in four games for the Hornets this season.

"We believe Noah would benefit greatly from additional game experience," said Hornets general manager Rich Cho in a statement. "He will be able to get that playing time through this D-League assignment.”


Taylor, a 6-foot-7 small forwar who is coming off a 24-game suspension after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor domestic-violence charge, will play for the Austin Spurs.

“As with Noah’s situation, we think that Jeffery will benefit greatly by getting additional game action,” Cho said in a statement. “Our depth at the wing position has limited his minutes and this D-League assignment will allow him to get some valuable playing time.”

 – Sergio Tovar

Posted by Observer staff on December 28, 2014 at 11:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (61)

Three takeaways from a rough night for the Hornets

            Three takeaways from the Charlotte Hornets’ 102-94 home loss to the Orlando Magic:

            Mike Krzyzewski, intramural monitor: I sometimes wonder what would have happened had Krzyzewski’s early seasons at Duke occurred in the Twitter era.

Imagine the comments: “He was the Army coach! Total loser! Tom Butters must go!”….”This fool keeps playing man when any idiot would play zone!”…”Tell Rat-face to get out of Durham now!”

Um, last I checked that hire worked out pretty well. The Hornets finally have a young, smart coach in Steve Clifford. I’m sure not saying he’s Coach K. I am saying he’s dramatically better than anyone who preceded him in the Bobcats era, and if you think he should be fired, you might/should re-assess.

So Kemba was selfish? Contrarian view: (I know, you’ve never read me being contrarian)…Why would people think what he did tonight was even mildly selfish?

Kemba Walker took 31 shots to score 42 points. That’s a lot of shots. More importantly it’s a lot of points in a game in which every other Hornet seemed to be sleep-walking.

Al Jefferson. Injured? You know that differentiation athletes make between hurt and injured? He thinks his groin strain is hurt as in, “I can tough this out and be effective.”

I suspect this is on the cusp of, “Shut him down before you lose him for a month.”

Posted by Observer Sports on December 28, 2014 at 02:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (30)

December 27, 2014

Hornets coach Steve Clifford on why rookie Noah Vonleh doesn't play much right now

            The question Charlotte Hornets fans ask me most: “Why isn’t Noah Vonleh playing more?”

            Rookie Vonleh was the ninth overall pick in June’s draft. He’s a power forward, which means he’s playing behind Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams and sometimes Jason Maxiell.

            Entering Saturday’s home game against the Orlando Magic, Vonleh had played a total of 32 minutes this season over four games (most recently the last seven minutes of a blowout loss in Oklahoma City Friday).

            The context on this is Vonleh had surgery in early September to repair a sports hernia. That cost him the voluntary workouts, where the basics of the Hornets’ system were taught, plus almost all of the preseason.

            I asked Hornets coach Steve Clifford to offer specifics why he doesn’t play Vonleh in anything but mop-up minutes right now.

”It’s the speed of the game: To play consistent, regular minutes you have to have a comfort level with how the NBA game is played,” Clifford said. “Unfortunately once the season starts you only have certain stretches of the year where you can practice a lot.

            “He’s a 19-year-old who missed all of September, when the foundation was put in, and all of October and is now playing catch-up.

            “The thing that gives him a chance is he’s very gifted and a great worker. But it would be tough for anybody” to catch up quickly after missing his rookie preseason.  

Posted by Observer Sports on December 27, 2014 at 06:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (43)

December 26, 2014

Hornets' Lance Stephenson, Thunder's Kevin Durant both out tonight for game in Oklahoma City

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Charlotte Hornets shooting guard Lance Stephenson (pelvic sprain) won’t play Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder or Saturday against the Orlando Magic.

            In fact, Stephenson recovering in time to play Monday at home against the Milwaukee Bucks might be a reach, Hornets coach Steve Clifford said at morning shootaround.

            “I think we had a good idea he’d be out longer – it’s a tough (injury) day-to-day; where it is makes it hard to know,” Clifford said. “I didn’t think he’d be ready to play this weekend.

            “(Monday) at the very earliest. He hasn’t been able to do anything. He’s just getting to the point where he can even shoot.”

            The Hornets won’t practice Sunday after games on back-to-back nights, so Stephenson’s first chance to practice would be Tuesday before a New Year’s Eve road game against the Houston Rockets.

            Stephenson has missed the last four games after injuring himself in a Dec. 17 home loss to the Phoenix Suns. With Stephenson out and Gerald Henderson starting, the Hornets have gone on a season-best four-game winning streak heading into tonight’s game at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

            The Thunder will be without superstar small forward Kevin Durant tonight. Durant is still severely limited from an ankle sprain. Tonight will be the fifth consecutive game he has missed. Durant earlier this season missed time with a broken foot. The Thunder is 7-14 in games Durant hasn’t played this season.

            The Hornets won’t have third-string point guard Jannero Pargo tonight, either. Pargo is out with lower-back soreness.

Posted by Observer Sports on December 26, 2014 at 12:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

December 23, 2014

Three takeaways from a blowout of the Nuggets

Three takeaways from the Hornets’ 110-82 blowup of the Denver Nuggets:

            Do three victories qualify as a pattern? My incredibly insightful 20-year-old son used a word tonight to describe the Lance Stephenson situation: “Awkward.”

             That is so well put. No one in the franchise is willing to say Stephenson’s absence is a factor in them suddenly winning three games so easily, but no one is disputing that, either.

            That’s understandable. You can’t expect people in a workplace to knock each other, particularly to the media. But the Hornets are playing at both ends right now with some of last season’s synergy. And Stephenson is sitting and watching in street clothes.

            Total coincidence, right?

            Hairston showed something: Those 10 rebounds tonight were worth a lot more than shooting 4-of-11 for 10 points. The Nuggets are the best offensive-rebounding team in the league. Hairston figuring out how to help beyond jacking up 3s demonstrates some progress.

            Who would have thought? The Hornets signed three significant free agents last summer: Stephenson, Marvin Williams and Brian Roberts. Oddly enough, the one who has worked out best is the after-thought – Roberts.

            He’s smart, tough and dependable. Don’t tell me about his limitations, I get that. But right now he’s by far the least disappointing of these three signings.

Posted by Observer Sports on December 23, 2014 at 01:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (42)

December 19, 2014

Three takeaways from the Hornets' rare dominant victory

Three takeaways from the Charlotte Hornets’ 109-91 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

             Veteran eyes: It’s dangerous to draw a lot of sweeping conclusions from this game since the 76ers are so self-destructive. But I did like how well the Hornets recognized and responded to Sixers coach Brett Brown’s extreme efforts to take away center Al Jefferson.

            The other Hornets presented themselves as targets, Jefferson often threw the pass that led to the pass, and that made for a 42 percent shooting night from 3-point range.

            Show you something? I liked how aggressive Gerald Henderson was tonight from tip-off. I’m guessing here, but I suspect he feels a little forgotten, starting only when Lance Stephenson is hurt.

            We all know Henderson’s limitations. But he gave what he had tonight and was efficient and productive.

            The “Free P.J.” chatter amuses me: Because Stephenson was out, rookie P.J. Hairston was back in the rotation. He shot 1-of-7 from the field and 0-of-5 from 3-point range.

            That stuff happens to rookies. They have to figure it out. But if, say, Gary Neal had those numbers, my Twitter responses would blow up with how useless he is.

            Not a single negative reaction to Hairston’s night. I’m not sure I get why he’s so Teflon. The Tar Heel connection? The anti-hero rep? The seductive quality of new?

            Like I said, it’s amusing.

Posted by Observer Sports on December 19, 2014 at 11:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (48)

December 18, 2014

Three takeaways from the Hornets' loss to the Phoenix Suns:

Three takeaways from the Hornets’ 111-106 loss to the Phoenix Suns:

            Important stuff you might have missed: The most newsworthy thing that came out of Time Warner Cable Arena had nothing to do with the game. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said its inevitable Charlotte gets an All-Star Weekend, after city council agreed to pay $33.5 million in renovations/improvements to the building.

            Quoting Silver: “I don’t think there’s any question it’s going to happen,”

I always saw this as a “Quid pro quo”: If you look at the contract the city signed with the NBA during expansion, it’s incumbent on them to keep the arena competitive. Doing these things now, rather than dragging their feet, awards an All-Star Game, which is a ton of filled hotel rooms and restaurants in mid-February, when Charlotte is otherwise dead.

When was the last time the NASCAR Hall of Fame did anything like that?

How badly is Stephenson hurt? I left the Hornets locker room tonight shortly after Lance Stephenson. Lance was 20 paces ahead of me and by the time I reached the media room, I had to slow up not to pass him.

He was moving like the Tin Woodsman in the Wizard of Oz, like you wanted to put oil in each of his joints. Whatever a “groin contusion” is, he sure looked debilitated.

The absurd danger of the plus-minus stat: The only two Hornets with pluses on the box score tonight were Gerald Henderson and Bismack Biyombo. With all due respect to their contributions, I don’t think that had either Hendo or Biz played more tonight, the Hornets’ chances of winning would have grown much, if at all.

That is an absurdly random stat, in that it often reflects more when you played, rather than how you played.

Posted by Observer Sports on December 18, 2014 at 01:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (54)