One of the big differences between regular-season NBA basketball and playoff basketball is adjustments.
You are no longer playing four random opponents in the space of seven nights. It’s one quality opponent in a best-of-seven series full of moves and counter-moves.
I bring that up because I think the Charlotte Hornets, now on a six-game winning streak, have a viable chance to win a round in the post-season. The biggest reason I see for that is they are becoming offensively diverse in a way they’ve never been since the NBA returned to Charlotte as the Bobcats in 2004.
Coach Steve Clifford saw this coming when the team made all those changes with four trades in June. Before there were one or two ways for the Hornets to fabricate a basket; either it was Al Jefferson posting up or Kemba Walker hoping to find space to shoot in a pick-and-roll.
Now it’s different, as the 118-103 home victory over the Detroit Pistons demonstrated. In the same game the Hornets scored 30 points from outside the 3-point arc and scored 38 points in the lane. That’s balance and efficiency that you just didn’t see in recent memory here.
Specifically, the advantage in the playoffs would mean an opponent couldn’t simply say, “Take this away and the Hornets have no Plan B.”
Scouting is so sophisticated in the post-season that if you don’t have Plan B and Plan C, you could get swept, as the Bobcats were in each of their trips to the post-season.
“It has to become who you are,” Clifford said of the spectrum of ways they scored Friday. “That’s Golden State. That’s San Antonio. San Antonio has a way to play, and I don’t care what the score is, they’re playing that way.
“Golden State has its things whether they’re up 20 or down 20. That’s something you build a belief in and we’re not there yet.”
The Hornets had a 5 ½-minute span of the third quarter when they generated only 11 points. But remember, that happened frequently in the past and is now rarer.
The Hornets started making threes early (five in the first quarter Friday). Then, in the second half, after the Pistons trimmed what had been a 19-point deficit to single digits, the Hornets went to Jefferson either in the post or in pick-and-rolls with Nic Batum.
Clifford said the key to preparing for the playoffs is to be one of that handful of NBA teams that continues to improve in the last 15 to 20 games. This is improvement: Employing all the offensive weapons so that the offense doesn’t look predictable or stale.
“It’s everything – it’s the screening, it’s the ball-movement, it’s the purpose of play,” Clifford said. “That’s what the great teams do.”
The other point Clifford emphasized is, regardless of whether a shot comes from the lane or the perimeter, it’s essential the ball reaches the paint nearly every possession. That forces defenses to contract and opens space for jump shooters.
They’re getting there. They are 11th in points per game at 102.7. And, as power forward Marvin Williams described, they’re learning to use all the colors on their palette.
“We have so many different guys who can make so many plays,” said Williams, who scored a team-high 22 points. “Obviously you can’t take everything away from a team and our team benefits from that. It’s definitely a bonus that will help us out if we make the post-season.”