Charlotte Hornets

For Hornets, ‘road, sweet road’ is not a viable NBA game plan

Defense, like this late charge Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker took on Detroit Pistons' Tobias Harris (34), was essential to an ugly home victory Wednesday.
Defense, like this late charge Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker took on Detroit Pistons' Tobias Harris (34), was essential to an ugly home victory Wednesday. AP

There’s an expression from the investment industry: Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

It could apply to the Charlotte Hornets this season.

They have a nice little early record at 13-9. To assemble that record, they have gone 6-3 on the road and 7-6 at the Spectrum Center. Expecting that balancing act to work throughout the season could be costly for this team.

As coach Steve Clifford explained, following an 87-77 victory over the Detroit Pistons, a team that goes .500 at home in the NBA is asking to miss the playoffs. The standard formula to a 50-victory season is go 30-11 at home and win half your road games. The Hornets are trending opposite to that.

For some reason, the Hornets tend to play down to the competition at home.

Now, it’s great that the Hornets aren’t intimidated by the road. They won in Miami, a place that traditionally has been awful for the Hornets, and they pummeled the Grizzlies in Memphis.

But for some reason, they tend to play down to the competition at home, where their best victories so far would be over the Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks. Clifford has been on them about upping the intensity at home and, ugly as Wednesday’s game was, the Hornets did play harder than the Pistons.

It’s not easy to win a game, home or road, shooting 34 percent from the field, as the Hornets did Wednesday. But the defense made the Pistons look just as bad. Detroit shot just 4-of-27 from 3-point range.

How ugly was this game offensively? It was just the fourth time this NBA season that both teams in the same game failed to reach 40 points by halftime.

"So ugly," said shooting guard Nic Batum. "We tend to lose these games."

How ugly was this game offensively? It was just the fourth time this NBA season that both teams in the same game failed to reach 40 points by halftime.

Batum had plenty to do with avoiding that. For the second game in a row, Batum finished with 15 rebounds (along with 14 points). That was key because Pistons center Andre Drummond (26 points and 20 rebounds) was such a rough matchup for the Hornets’ Cody Zeller.

Another big reason they survived Wednesday: The return of power forward Marvin Williams. He had missed the previous six games with a hyperextended left knee. You couldn’t sense any physical limitations or rust from Williams’ performance. He finished with 12 points and five rebounds and held Pistons forward Tobias Harris to 14 points on 7-of-19 shooting.

Recall that about a week ago, the Pistons were in Charlotte, winning their first road game of the season over an Eastern Conference foe. Harris had 24 points, guarded by Frank Kaminsky in Williams’ absence.

You could sense Williams’ presence, both individually against Harris and in his effect on the team’s defense. As Batum noted post-game, Williams is so vocal that the Hornets always communicate better defensively with him on the court.

Clifford didn’t know what he’d get out of Williams after a 2 1/2-week absence. Williams surprised Clifford with just how well he kept up. He played 26 minutes, just two fewer than his season average.

This win got them above .500 at home and that needs to be the start of a trend.

"Road, sweet road" is nothing like an NBA game plan.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

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