Charlotte Hornets

What can shaky Charlotte Hornets defense do to get its collective head back in game?

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker scored 70 points against the Boston Celtics on Friday.
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker scored 70 points against the Boston Celtics on Friday. AP

The Charlotte Hornets are coming off another shaky defensive performance. And now along comes Devin Booker.

The Hornets, who continue to tread water in 11th place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference – still 3.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot with 12 regular-season games remaining – lost 112-105 against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, allowing the NBA champions to make 55.4 percent of their shots.

That same night, Booker, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, was scoring 70 points for the Phoenix Suns in a 130-120 loss to Boston – the most an opposing player has ever scored against the Celtics.

And while the Phoenix team surrounding Booker will never be mistaken for the supporting cast LeBron James has in Cleveland, the Suns’ arrival for a Sunday matinee at Spectrum Center will certainly have the attention of Hornets coach Steve Clifford.

Defense continues to be the part of the Hornets’ overall game that confounds Clifford. As he has after so many games since the Hornets’ fast start back in November, he pinned Friday’s loss against the Cavs on a defense that wasn’t necessarily lacking in physical effort. It was more between the ears.

It’s certainly not coaching, it’s all execution by the players.

Hornets forward Marvin Williams

“We just made too many mistakes,” Clifford said. “That’s it. Period. (We struggled with) rotations, mistakes and things that you have to be able to do to beat a team like that. The effort was there, obviously, we had plays we had to make there at the end (and) we didn’t make them. They did.

“At the end of the day, to win these games, again, we can fix it (in practice). We’ve got to be better defensively. We’ve got to be smarter. We’ve got to be smarter with the basic stuff, smarter, all the time.”

Clifford pointed to Cleveland’s ability to run its pick-and-roll offense, particularly between James and Kevin Love, during the fourth quarter.

“(The way) our team is put together … our strength would be our intelligence,” Clifford said. “That only works if you take advantage of it and (we) just made too many mistakes.”

Clifford and his assistants presumably have spent plenty of time watching film of Booker’s epic performance against the Celtics. He made 21-of-40 shots (including 4-of-11 from 3-point range) and was 24-of-26 from the free-throw line.

The Cavs loss snapped a three-game winning streak by the Hornets.

“It’s certainly not coaching, it’s all execution by the players,” Hornets forward Marvin Williams said of the team’s defensive shortcomings. “Cliff and his staff do a tremendous job putting together a game plan for us. They watch a ton of film. They’re always prepared. They always have us prepared.

“It’s on us as players to go out there and execute the game plan. We’ve had some rough times this season, that will happen sometimes throughout the course of a season, but as of late we’ve been playing really well. We’ve got to continue to do that.”