Charlotte Hornets

For Hornets and playoff chances, it’s all about defense

Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) scored 15 points in a 108-101 loss against Miami on Wednesday.
Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) scored 15 points in a 108-101 loss against Miami on Wednesday. AP

Time will soon run out on the Charlotte Hornets if they don’t start heeding coach Steve Clifford’s warning about the importance of a consistent defensive effort.

Clifford means what he says. If the Hornets don’t commit to playing tough defense during each possession of each quarter of each game, they’re not going to make the NBA playoffs.

With a 28-36 record and 18 games left in the regular season, the Hornets remain three games out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference after a 108-101 loss Wednesday against the Miami Heat in AmericanAirlines Arena.

“We can’t pick and choose when we defend,” said Clifford. “We have a couple of guys that did that (Wednesday) and it got (the Heat) going. Then, they were hard to stop.”

The Hornets limited the Heat to 43.5 percent shooting from the floor, but, like Clifford implied, there were times when that wasn’t enough.

Miami, one of the teams above the Hornets in the playoff race, went on several scoring bursts throughout the game, including a 15-3 run to open the fourth quarter that turned an 86-81 Charlotte lead into a 96-89 Heat edge.

It can’t be five guys trying, then three guys not trying. That’s what killed us in the first half.

Steve Clifford on Hornets defense against Miami

The Hornets were able to respond to those kinds of runs earlier in the game, but couldn’t when it counted. On one late possession, the Heat grabbed three offensive rebounds, with guard Dion Waiters (24 points) capitalizing by draining a long 3-pointer.

“We made a lot of mistakes defensively and they capitalized,” said Hornets guard Kemba Walker, who scored 33 points.

So Clifford will continue to drill in his players a mindset that hasn’t yet been fully embraced.

“I’ve got to get everybody to understand that we have to guard every trip and be more disciplined in our coverage,” Clifford said, sounding a familiar refrain. “It can’t be five guys trying, then three guys not trying. That’s what killed us in the first half.”

“Our defense had been terrific, but then it went from here to here,” Clifford said, raising his arm above his head and then lowering it to his belt. “The way the new NBA is, it’s hurt us this year. Everybody has got to try and guard all the time. You don’t have to be great at it, but you’ve got to be organized and you have to try.”

There’s 18 games left, that’s almost a quarter of the season. We want to be playing meaningful games in the last 10 or 12 games.

Steve Clifford on Hornets’ playoff chances

The Hornets remain on the fringe of the playoff picture, but have a three-game homestand now to try to move up, with games against Orlando on Friday, New Orleans on Saturday and Chicago on Monday. Chicago is hanging on to the eighth and final playoff spot.

“It’s super important, we’ve got to take advantage of the home court,” said Hornets guard Kemba Walker, who scored 33 against the Heat.

Said Clifford: “There’s 18 games left, that’s almost a quarter of the season. We want to be playing meaningful games in the last 10 or 12 games. We want to have that chance.”

Time is running short.

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