Coach Steve Clifford’s message to his Charlotte Hornets: Don’t be satisfied by one victory.
He said that repeatedly after a 98-86 victory over the Chicago Bulls that broke a five-game losing streak.
“Now we’ll see,” Clifford said. “Now the challenge is to come out Friday (in Boston) and a put two games together.”
As center Al Jefferson keeps saying, time is running out. They are 23-32 and are still hanging in the race for one of the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Teams around them – the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers – are similarly flawed, but the Hornets can’t afford to keep blowing games.
The Hornets hadn’t won since before a loss Feb.7 to the 76ers in Philadelphia. One game they’d be shaky offensively, then the next they would be surprisingly off defensively.
Wednesday, particularly in the second half, they played that complete game that has been so elusive. Over the final 24 minutes, Charlotte outscored the Bulls 36-22.
Point guard Mo Williams scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half, including a 13-point third quarter that gave the Hornets the lead for good.
Then Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (18 points and 12 rebounds) and Al Jefferson (16 points) took over in the fourth. Kidd-Gilchrist made all three of his fourth-quarter shots, scoring seven points, and Jefferson scored eight in the fourth on 4-of-7 shooting.
Jefferson, who has been smothered of late by various double-teams in the post, said he felt a different vibe Wednesday from his teammates.
“It always starts at (morning) shootaround,” Jefferson said. “Today the focus was really on. I knew regardless of whether we won or lost, we’d play hard.
“Tonight we played a full 48 minutes; we deserved that one.”
The Hornets overcame an early 11-point deficit, then played the Bulls to a standstill entering the fourth quarter. The Bulls, known for great defense, sort of crumbled in the fourth quarter, giving up 31 points. Particularly out of character for the Bulls, they gave up 17 fast-break points to a Hornets team not known for great transition offense.
Clifford said he has a deal with the players that if the team reaches 18 fast-break points in any one game, he’ll award each player $100 out of the team’s fine pool. They just missed that goal Wednesday.
Williams continues to be a find, filling in for Kemba Walker as starting point guard.
The game didn’t start out well for Williams, who committed two shooting fouls outside the 3-point line in the game’s first seven minutes. But he finished with five assists, along with his 17 points,
“I think we did a very good job offensively and defensively we did what we do,” Williams said. “We’ve got to be focused like this every game the rest of the way.”
The Hornets complete this four-game road trip with Friday’s game in Boston against the Celtics and then a Sunday night meeting with the Magic in Orlando, Fla.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell