Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford didn’t want to hear about the four games in five nights or the hour his team lost flying home from Memphis or the fact that the Detroit Pistons hadn’t played since Saturday.
Clifford was concerned with two troubling numbers during a 10-8 start:
First, that the Hornets are only 5-5 at home at Spectrum Center. Second, that the Hornets have a 1-3 record when playing the second game on back-to-back nights.
“Great players bring it every night,” Clifford said Tuesday night.
The Hornets stunk it up during the second half of a 112-89 loss to the Pistons. Clifford went out of his way after Monday’s road victory against the Grizzlies to remind his players and the media that teams with lofty goals validate those victories by sweeping a back-to-back set.
That didn’t happen, despite the Pistons playing without star center Andre Drummond in the second half. Drummond was caught elbowing the Hornets’ Roy Hibbert in the back of the head as Kemba Walker launched a 3-pointer.
After a video review, the referees charged Drummond with a Flagrant Foul 2, which is an automatic ejection.
So the Pistons, who had won just one of their previous eight road games, blew out the Hornets despite missing their two most important players – Drummond and injured point guard Reggie Jackson.
Forward Tobias Harris was quite enough, scoring 24 points to lead the Pistons home. An athletic 6-foot-9, Harris isn’t quite a power forward or a classic small forward. Clifford tried to guard Harris with Frank Kaminsky and nothing about Kaminsky’s night went well.
Starting in place of the injured Marvin Williams, Kaminsky made just one of 11 shots from the field. This was his third start since Williams suffered a hyperextended knee and by far his worst.
Kaminsky looked physically flat, not that he was alone in that regard. He and the Hornets will be better off when Williams is back, allowing Kaminsky to play against starters only part-time. The steady diet of front-line scorers is challenging him, and not in a good way.
Despite a miserable start – the Hornets trailed 13-2 in this one – the combination of a 29-point second quarter and Drummond’s ejection left the home team trailing by only three at halftime. Clifford felt good about the second-half prospects.
And then … zilch.
The energy level in the second half was flat at best. Worse yet, Jeremy Lamb, who had played so well the previous two games, suffered a right knee bruise early in the fourth quarter and never returned.
I followed up with Clifford about his home-game and second game-of-back to backs numbers. He reminded that the Eastern Conference is better and deeper this season, and concluded that the presumption that playing .500 ball will get a team in the East into the playoffs is no longer valid.
Clifford thinks this is the most talented group he’s coached in Charlotte, but he has misgivings about the focus he’s getting on a case-by-case basis.
If that doesn’t change, April could be about regret.