Of course, the Charlotte Hornets are a great shooting team: They made 26 of 28 free throws Monday night.
Of course, the Charlotte Hornets are a flawed shooting team: They made three of 18 3-pointers Monday night.
The Hornets’ 109-101 victory against the Dallas Mavericks looked a little like a weird word problem in math class. As in, “How many free throws must the Hornets make in a row to overcome being outscored 29-9 from 3-point range?”
We knew this team would have some struggles, particularly early, on offense. Coach Steve Clifford said repeatedly during the preseason that he needed great defense immediately from this group, because the offense would take a while.
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By Clifford’s own description, the Hornets have been a little better offensively than he anticipated during the first 21 games and spottier on defense than he can accept. Ultimately, it comes down to this:
They need to find the best way to get their best scorers on the floor during the fourth quarter without getting buried defensively.
The Mavericks unintentionally aided the Hornets in that manner. After Dallas center Andrew Bogut injured a knee during the first quarter and left the game for good, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle went increasingly small in his lineup.
That’s not uncommon for Carlisle to do during his team’s early struggles. The Mavs are 4-16 primarily because they are lacking key pieces, such as superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki.
Carlisle gambled that his best chance of winning was a small lineup with Harrison Barnes at power forward. That allowed the Hornets to keep Nic Batum, Jeremy Lamb and Marco Belinelli on the court for long stretches late.
Thus, the Hornets outscored the Mavericks during the fourth quarter 34-23.
Clifford said he made peace with the fact in the fourth quarter that he wasn’t going to have much success defensively against the Mavericks in general and Barnes (29 points on 10-of-21 shooting) in particular. So he went with the flow and hoped the offense would carry the Hornets home.
Ironically enough, it was a defensive play by a Hornets big man that saved the day. Mavericks point guard Deron Williams got into the lane during the final minute for what figured to be, at minimum, two foul shots. Instead, center Cody Zeller blocked Williams’ attempted runner, setting up Lamb for a 3-pointer that settled things with 32 seconds left.
That a Hornets 3-pointer would be the key basket in this one was pretty hard to predict. The Hornets missed their first 15 3-point attempts before Belinelli made two in a row during the second half.
The Hornets need to get well defensively, and the impending return of power forward Marvin Williams will be big in that process.
They need to find an identity offensively, too. Not the split personality their foul shooting and 3-point shooting suggested Monday.