It’s my experience when a professional athlete answers a question before it’s ever asked, that subject is a weighty topic.
Monday, following morning shootaround, Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard kept talking about the hangdog vibe he was sensing among some teammates. He described vividly what he noticed.
“We’ve got to stop holding our heads down and stop looking like we’re defeated already,” Howard volunteered. “We’ve got to come out and play basketball; get out of our own heads and go for a win. Just that simple.”
That’s pretty much what happened Monday night against the New York Knicks. The Hornets played confidently and assertively – no given this season – building as much as a 27-point lead in a 109-91 victory.
Granted, the Knicks (16-14) were seriously depleted. Their top two scorers – Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. – both missed this game with injuries. But fragile as the 11-19 Hornets have been the first third of this season, beating up on anyone anywhere felt like traction.
Associate head coach Stephen Silas, still filling in for an ailing Steve Clifford, said it was perceptive and helpful that Howard spoke up. Silas saw evidence during this game of what Howard meant; various players looking downcast in timeouts in reaction to mistakes.
Sometimes it’s a coach’s job to dress players down. Other times it’s a coach’s job to build them up. The Hornets – losers of six of seven entering Monday – needed building up.
There is one sure way to raise the spirits of any basketball team: Make some shots. The Hornets are just 26th among 30 NBA teams in 3-point percentage at 34.5 percent. Monday, they made nine of 20 from outside the arc.
The Hornets finished this game with 30 assists, one short of a season high. Forward Marvin Williams observed that wasn’t so much a breakthrough in ball-movement as the ball finally falling through the rim.
Williams, in his 13th NBA season, has seen a spectrum of good and bad teams. I asked him what he thought of Howard’s comments about hangdog behavior.
“I don’t think necessarily anyone felt defeated before the games, but I think he’s 100 percent (right) if you looked at us after games,” Williams said. “Especially games like the Portland game, where we just let it slip away. We’ve had four or five of those.
“That’s literally like a gut-punch.”
Gut-punches aren’t just painful, they wear away at you. Frank Kaminsky, Williams’ backup at power forward, is a good example. He was bad the previous two games, making only four of 18 shot attempts. Monday, he made his first eight, including four 3-pointers. He matched a season-high with 24 points.
“When I go out and miss my first couple of shots, I hang my head,” Kaminsky said. “I let that affect other parts of my game, and I have to stop doing that.
“My effort level can always be high, regardless of whether shots are going in or out.”
Which sums up the problem Howard assertively addressed in the morning.
“Like I said, we’ve got to stop looking defeated, holding our heads down,” Howard said. “It’s a long season, and we can turn this thing around, but our mentalities have to change.”