The Charlotte Hornets have the fewest road wins among Eastern Conference teams contending for the playoffs.
The Hornets are a bad rebounding team.
These are not unrelated facts.
The way the Boston Celtics shot Sunday the Hornets probably would have lost regardless of how they rebounded. But the pounding the Hornets took in a 119-103 humiliation at TD Garden was so amplified by their lax rebounding and so illustrative of why they are 4-9 away from Charlotte.
An NBA team can often shoot its way out of trouble in the friendly atmosphere of a home game. But when you must come to a venue like the Garden, packed with adversarial fans two nights before Christmas, defense and rebounding are what sustain you.
The Celtics shot so well Sunday — making half their attempts from the field — that the last thing the Hornets could afford was giving Boston extra offensive chances.
There was so much garbage time left after the Celtics built a 25-point lead that the final stats look misleading, in that the Celtics out-rebounded the Hornets by 10 when it felt like 20. When this was decided in the first half, the Celtics got every ball up for grabs off the glass or rim. They piled up 20 second-chance points.
50-50 felt like 80-20
On nights like this, I tend to gravitate to power forward Marvin Williams in the post-game locker room. He’s analytical and won’t sugar-coat the realities of what happened.
“I would say the 50-50 balls they definitely took advantage of, whether it be off the backboard or just loose balls,” Williams said. “It felt like we were active at times, but whenever we did get deflections or had a chance to run (with) the ball it just wouldn’t come up in our favor.
“When you lose the 50-50 match-up, it does give the other team opportunities, and they were able to capitalize.”
Often, “50-50” looked more like “80-20” Sunday. The Celtics are not a big team, particularly with reserve center Aron Baynes out and starting center Al Horford on a minutes restriction off a left knee injury. No single Celtic had more than eight boards, but that team gang-rebounded in precisely the way the Hornets failed to do.
The Hornets’ five starters combined for just 14 rebounds Sunday. The two leading rebounders for Charlotte were reserves Willy Hernangomez (10) and Miles Bridges (seven).
The Hornets are 20th among 30 teams this season in rebounding. It was no surprise that when they traded Dwight Howard in July, they were losing the player who, even with abundant NBA mileage, could still post constant double-figure rebounding games.
It wasn’t a mistake to trade Howard. He would not have fit into the quick-decision/ball-movement style coach James Borrego was installing, and Howard would have chafed at an inevitable reduced role as a reserve. But Howard’s departure meant the Hornets had to become an ensemble rebounding team to mitigate that loss.
So far, collective rebounding hasn’t gone so well. This team’s two power forwards — Williams, backed up by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — combined for just three rebounds Sunday. That’s not typical of their performance this season, but there is very little room for error on this team as they bounce along at .500, hoping not only to earn a playoff spot but be respectable in the first round.
The strain on the Hornets rebounding is about to increase. The Hornets play eight of their next 11 games on the road, including their first extended trip: A six-game tour of the Western Conference.
There are few, if any, nights on that trip when the Hornets can count on making 50 percent of their shots. So something else must change for the Hornets to get out of this road rut.
“That was a hungry team tonight,” Williams said of the Celtics.
Better find a way to match that hunger, and pack it in every suitcase.