Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets rode Al Jefferson’s ‘running game’ down the stretch

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford (left) used center Al Jefferson’s post-up game Thursday to burn up much of the fourth-quarter clock and beat the Dallas Mavericks.
Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford (left) used center Al Jefferson’s post-up game Thursday to burn up much of the fourth-quarter clock and beat the Dallas Mavericks. AP Photo

You know how comforting it is when the Carolina Panthers are protecting a fourth-quarter lead and can keep handing the ball to Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert?

That’s what Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford did with Al Jefferson Thursday. Jefferson in the post was the basketball equivalent of a great running game in football.

"When you’re ahead late and you can post the ball, it’s a great advantage," Clifford said following a 108-94 road victory over the Dallas Mavericks. "It takes time off the clock and your floor balance is always set. So whether he makes or misses, there’s usually not going to be a long rebound and you’re in spaces where you should be able to get back" on defense.

"It’s part of the NBA that is kind of going away, but if you have a post-up guy and you’re up 6-8-10 late, it makes it hard to come back."

Jefferson scored six of his season-high 31 points in the fourth quarter on 3-of-4 shooting. The Mavericks’ big men – primarily center Zaza Pachulia – never demonstrated the capacity to stop Jefferson from posting up at will, so Clifford kept calling the basketball equivalent of a run up the middle.

"You know where the ball is going to be even if they come and double it and you’re never out of position defensively," Clifford described "That’s versus (the risks of) the pick-and-roll or catch-and-shoots."

The Hornets won back-to-back games after losing their first three. They dominated both the Chicago Bulls and Mavericks, but in dramatically different ways. They made 14 of 23 3s against the Bulls to lead by as many as 35 points. Thursday they couldn’t make 3s (6-of-27 for the game), but they outscored the Mavericks in the lane 58 to 36, building as much as a 24-point lead.

Good teams have more than one way to score. One of the things Jefferson likes about this remade roster is he’s surrounded by players offensively skilled enough that opposing teams will find it hard to leave them to double-team him.

"I’ve got guys around me who make it a lot easier for me to get to the basket," Jefferson said. "That’s when it feels special, that’s when it gets easy."

"Tonight they didn’t double-team me until toward the end. I know sooner or later I’m going to see double-teams but I think my teammates will make it tough for any team to double-team me."

While Jefferson was featured Thursday, making 15 of his 18 shots, the Hornets continued to have balance. Marvin Williams scored 17 points, Kemba Walker had 14, Jeremy Lamb scored 16 off the bench and Cody Zeller added 11.

Some other thoughts on Thursday’s victory:

Williams’ precision

Williams finished with a double-double (17 points and 12 rebounds) and was the primary defender on Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, who had an off night (4-of-12 from the field for 14 points).

Williams said his priority in guarding Nowitzki is not to get frustrated and impatient: Accept that someone 7-foot and that skilled will score on you, so don’t make it worse by sending him to the foul line frequently.

This was Williams’ fourth double-figure rebounding game this season. Last season he had five total.

Low turnover

The Mavericks have a knack for converting opponent turnovers into easy baskets. After some early struggles this season (20 turnovers versus the Atlanta Hawks) the Hornets contained turnovers to 11 Thursday. That resulted in 12 Dallas points, as opposed to the Mavericks’ 13 turnovers resulting in 17 Hornets points.

House of horrors

A Charlotte NBA team hadn’t won in Dallas since January of 1998. Think about how long ago that was: The original Hornets hadn’t left for New Orleans yet. Since then the NBA awarded Charlotte an expansion franchise named the Bobcats. The original Hornets renamed themselves the New Orleans Pelicans and the Bobcats rebranded themselves as the Hornets.

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