After a 14-point loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday, the Charlotte Hornets talked about a lack of energy needed to compete,
Two nights later, same energy deficit, same result. The Hornets lost their third preseason game in as many tries 100-87 to the Philadelphia 76ers at Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum. Dwayne Bacon finished with 17 points for the Hornets.
The Hornets lost about 40 percent of their scoring from last season in Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb, who now play for different teams. To compete, the defense has to improve, which has been the focus all preseason. It sure didn’t look better in the first quarter, when the 76ers hit 13 of 21 shots to take a 33-14 lead.
That was with the Sixers not playing All-Star big man Joel Embiild.
The Hornets go to Memphis for their fourth presesaon game Monday against the Grizzlies.
Nic Batum missing this game with a sore right Achilles opened a starting spot. That created an opening for rookie P.J. Washington, who the Hornets drafted out of Kentucky. Coach James Borrego has called the rookie “fantastic” so far. Washington hit a 3 early on and made a no-look pass to Cody Zeller for an uncontested dunk.
In a season that must be all about a long-term rebuild, Washington is quickly becoming this team’s most interesting prospect. Starting Washington at power forward meant moving Miles Bridges back to small forward. It also meant keeping Malik Monk in the second unit in Batum’s absence.
Borrego said after Thursday’s practice that Washington could “significantly” change the regular-season rotation, perhaps even as a starter. This is clearly the biggest development so far of the Hornets’ preseason.
If the Hornets really are committed to better defense, particularly at the rim, they have a funny way of showing it. Two nights after giving up 52 points in the lane to the Miami Heat, the Hornets allowed 30 points in the paint in the first half alone. Borrego said before training camp started that he’s simplifying the defensive scheme; prioritizing rim-protection even if that concedes some 3-point attempts.
While they have two weeks until the regular season to clean this defense up, the early indications aren’t promising, particularly when you consider the Sixers played without elite center Joel Embiid.
Making his case
Bismack Biyombo is the third-highest paid Hornet this season at $17 million, and it’s far from a given he will play regularly, in the midst of a youth movement.
So it’s interesting that he was the first center off the bench Friday behind Zeller. He got the minutes that went to Willy Hernangomez in the first two preseason games. Hernangomez is a better scorer and a solid rebounder but struggles defensively. Last season Hernagomez got the first chance to replace an injured Zeller, then was replaced as a starter by Biyombo.
Hernangomez is younger, but if you’re going to make a statement about focusing on defense, Biyombo deserved a look.
Beyond the numbers
The Hornets have been low-turnover the past several seasons, and you really have to question if they can maintain that. They committed 22 Friday.
Obviously, when you lose Walker and Tony Parker at point guard, you take a hit in ballhandling. Beyond that, this group is so new to each other, and so inexperienced at key spots, that throwing away the ball could become a bad habit.