How many NBA teams would the Charlotte Hornets have beaten Wednesday?
Twenty-two of the other 29? Twenty-six?
When you shoot 51 percent from the field and 55 percent from 3-point range, when you outrebound your opponent by 10 and generate 114 points at home, there is an expectation that will be good enough.
But seemingly there is no good enough this season when the San Antonio Spurs are playing on the road. They are a stunning 8-0 away from the AT&T Center after that 119-114 victory in the Spectrum Center.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford was both encouraged and frustrated following this one. He saw for the most part a return to the focus of the first few games this season, after two clunkers against the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford ... saw two flaws that you simply can’t overcome against a team as precise and talented as the 12-3 Spurs.
But he also saw two flaws that you simply can’t overcome against a team as precise and talented as the 12-3 Spurs:
You can’t commit 16 turnovers, particularly when the Spurs converted those mistakes into 25 points. In the NBA, you are a solid takeaway defense if you average a point for every opponent turnover. Twenty-five points off 16 turnovers is exceptional.
The Hornets might even have survived that had they figured out a way to guard more efficiently down the stretch. The Spurs generated 35 fourth-quarter points off 12-of-19 shooting from the field. Just as important, the Spurs got to the foul line eight times in that final quarter, making seven.
Someone asked Clifford how the Spurs could manage to go 8-0 on the road. Clifford chuckled and rattled off the resume: An MVP candidate in Kawhi Leonard (30 points), two potential Hall-of-Famers in Tony Parker and Pau Gasol, a perennial All-Star in LaMarcus Aldridge (23 points)…
Oh, and as Clifford put it, the premier basketball coach of this NBA era in Gregg Popovich.
They execute so well. They are very hard to guard. They’re very unselfish. They do a great job.
Gregg Popovich about the Hornets
So, yeah, that’s what greatness looks like and this was quite a test.
Clifford walked away encouraged: He said his team has potential to be better than "pretty good," it could end up great. They’re a long way from great right now, but they certainly got Popovich’s attention with that 60-point first half.
"The first half, they were scoring so easily. It was crazy," Popovich said. "We changed a couple of things and did a little better job (defensively).
"They execute so well. They are very hard to guard. They’re very unselfish. They do a great job."
Those expressions – "hard to guard" and "very unselfish" – describe what has made the Spurs the gold standard in NBA organizations for most of the past two decades.
Steve Clifford walked away encouraged: He said his team has potential to be better than "pretty good," the Hornets could end up great.
Clifford was asked Tuesday at practice what he finds distinctive about the Spurs. He said no matter what the score, no matter what the situation, they have a way to play and they don’t deviate from that.
They overcame another spectacular performance by Kemba Walker (26 points, nine rebounds and seven assists) that included a late four-point play that closed the deficit to one.
But then turnovers became a factor. The Hornets lost possession on an in-bounds play when video review overturned the initial ruling that the ball went out of bounds off Parker.
Clifford, avoiding a potential fine, diplomatically mentioned the Hornets got no breaks down the stretch.
The Spurs don’t need breaks. They have Leonard, they have Aldridge, they have the best mind in NBA coaching.
And that’s how a team starts 8-0 on the road.