Charlotte Hornets

Why Charlotte Hornets coach believes team must recommit to elite defense

Charlotte Hornets' Cody Zeller, "I hate playing against Dwight (Howard) and Dwight hates playing against me"

Former rivals on the NBA court, Zeller is more than happy to be teammates with Howard. As well as setting screens, playing good defense, and helping his teammates.
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Former rivals on the NBA court, Zeller is more than happy to be teammates with Howard. As well as setting screens, playing good defense, and helping his teammates.

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford said the roster he’ll bring to training camp this month is good enough to reach, and compete in, the playoffs.

But only so if this team recommits itself to elite defense and the second unit improves both offensively and defensively.

The Hornets were top-10 in offensive and defensive efficiency two seasons ago, when they won 48 games and pushed the Miami Heat to seven games before a first-round playoff elimination. Last season, when the Hornets finished 36-46 and missed the playoffs, offensive and defensive efficiency slipped to 14th in each category among 30 NBA teams.

The trademark of Clifford’s teams in Charlotte has been precise, effective defense.

“The thing that changed – which starts with me, my responsibility – is our defensive disposition. We’ve been a top-10 defensive team since our staff got here. That’s what we hung our hat on,” Clifford said Friday at a media luncheon.

“You want to start always with a team that doesn’t beat itself - not give up easy baskets, not fouling, taking away the strengths of the other team. ...That’s how you win and how you win on the road.

“Whether that was me taking that for granted, because we had done that well for three years, or me not getting them to understand what we had to do at that end of the floor, the bottom line is it didn’t get done, particularly with games on the line.”

Scoring from the second unit will likely improve from the Hornets’ off-season moves: By adding center Dwight Howard, Cody Zeller will move to the second unit, where his pick-and-rolls could be yet more effective. The Hornets also drafted two wing scorers in Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon.

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