Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego’s post-game description wasn’t quite eloquent Wednesday, but at least it was better than the game itself.
“No one is coming in to save us,” Borrego said following a wretched home performance resulting in a 122-84 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
“We have to save ourselves.”
I’ve covered the NBA long enough not to be consumed by one game, but this performance - the Hornets trailed by as many as 47 points - has to make you wonder about the Hornets’ direction. They leave Friday for Denver and a six-game trip through the Western Conference. They have been a bad road team (4-11 away from Spectrum Center) and they have already used up half of their 41 home games.
There was no area Wednesday in which the Hornets didn’t look deficient. They gave up 42 points in the first quarter to a team that had won just two of their previous 18 road games. Offensively, they scored the fewest points in a game this season, falling below the 89 in a clunker at Cleveland.
Borrego said his team lacked “spirit” Wednesday, which is the same word Borrego’s predecessor, Steve Clifford, used to describe last season’s 36-46 record.
This game felt like a trip back to the 7-59 season in 2011-12. They are not that bad, of course, but between this performance and the daunting upcoming schedule, questions are raised. Such as...
Do they have capable replacements to get through Cody Zeller’s and Jeremy Lamb’s injuries?
Borrego started Willy Hernangomez at center and rookie Devonte Graham at shooting guard. Center Zeller is out a yet-undetermined time with a broken hand, but that certainly will eat up at least a month. Lamb has a hamstring strain and is listed as day-to-day.
Graham looked OK, considering at 6-foot-1 he’s not ideally suited physically to defend opposing shooting guards. He showed poise in making two first-quarter 3-pointers. Borrego went with Graham partially because he didn’t want to shake up Malik Monk’s role off the bench and partially because he likes having two playmaking guards on the court together.
Borrego said he wanted to review the video before saying much about Hernangomez’s performance. So there was nothing about how Hernangomez played that jumped out positively. It was telling, I thought, that Borrego said he’ll need more from Hernangomez.
You’ll see lots of experimentation with the center minutes in Zeller’s absence. While that is Borrego’s nature, it’s also an implicit admission there is no one good alternative.
Will the defense ever be good enough?
Consciously or not, the Hornets slip into a dangerous pattern this season of thinking their offense can carry them. Borrego has been frustrated by all the 30-point quarters they have allowed, so imagine how he felt about allowing 40 right off tip-off Wednesday.
After giving up 130 points in Washington Saturday, Hornets point guard Kemba Walker acknowledged this team is “easy to play against” too often this season. How much worse was this defensively?“Bad,” Walker said. “If I could tell you (just what is wrong), that would be better. But I don’t know. We’re struggling.”I wonder if Borrego might turn more to reserve center Bismack Biyombo, and just live with Biyombo’s offensive limitations to create more of a defensive presence at the rim.
What must happen for them to stay in the playoff race?
The best thing you can say about the Hornets’ results so far is they have played well against other teams chasing the last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference (Miami, Orlando and Detroit, and to a lesser extent Brooklyn). The worst thing you can say is they lose frequently to lottery teams. It’s hard to feel good about a team that has already lost to Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Cleveland.Borrego often says this team has a small margin for error, and he’s right. I don’t see how such a team navigates January, with 10 road games and also 10 games against teams with .500 or better records.
If they have a brutal January, then what?
I get asked frequently whether the Hornets will be buyers or sellers approaching the Feb. 7 trade deadline. I’ve said that is likely contingent on the first three weeks of January.A small addition, like when they traded for Courtney Lee a couple of years ago, wouldn’t save the season. I could see subtraction, instead. For instance, If making the playoffs starts feeling unlikely, I could picture general manager Mitch Kupchak moving Lamb to a contender, if just to make sure they get some sort of compensation before Lamb reaches free agency in July.