Asked about the Charlotte Hornets’ early struggles last week, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers noted it has been a long time since this team has played with expectations.
That’s a totally different kind of pressure, Rivers observed.
Particularly so when a young team isn’t living up to those expectations. The Hornets are 4-14 and have lost nine in a row heading into Wednesday’s home game against the Chicago Bulls.
There are numerous contributing factors to the Hornets’ bad start. They go into the Bulls game with three of their top seven players hurt (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams and Gary Neal). They also have had a rough schedule in the frequency of games and quality of opponent.
But the players know they’re not living up to their collective potential.
“This is different than 7-59,” said tri-captain Gerald Henderson, referring to the disastrous 2011-12 season. “Our team is better than that, which in some ways makes this worse. We expect more from ourselves than that team did.
“I think we have the right kind of guys to keep a positive attitude. We’ve played some tough teams and have competed; we just haven’t closed the deal. The last game (a 30-point loss in Atlanta) was a wash, but we’re moving on past that and hopefully tomorrow will be good.”
Sunday, Monday and Tuesday represented the first three-day break from games this season after the Hornets opened with 18 games in 32 days. They have a four-day break after Friday’s home game against the New York Knicks.
Coach Steve Clifford used practice Monday and Tuesday to address some flaws – particularly post defense and not blocking out for rebounds – but he also saw the break as an opportunity for players and coaches alike to clear their heads.
“When you lose, when you’re not feeling good about yourself, it’s hard to play well,” Clifford said. “That’s why it was good we had these two days of practice. We haven’t won a game in two weeks. When you go that long without winning, it’s difficult.
“This is not an attitudinal problem – we have guys who want to win. They’re frustrated, they badly want to play well.”
Clifford said one very correctable flaw is not blocking out. The Hornets gave up key offensive rebounds in losing to the Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers.
“The second-chance baskets are sapping our energy,” Clifford said. “For our team right here it’s got to entail physicality. I told them today by NBA standards we are really small. So the only way it’s going to happen is the big guys are gonna hit and the perimeter guys are going to hit. We have to fight as hard as we can for rebounds.”
Some of the fight has been knocked out of these players of late. Point guard Kemba Walker, another tri-captain, said this break from games wasn’t just welcome, it was necessary, almost like hitting a restart button.
“We’ve been going nonstop – traveling and games so close together. It does wear on you,” Walker said. “These practice days will help us.
“Anyone in this situation would find it tough. But it’s a long year, and we’re not out of anything. As long as we keep our composure, stay together, I think things will change around for us. I’m just staying positive and keep my teammates positive.”