There is no alternate way of putting this: The Charlotte Hornets are a bad basketball team right now.
They miss wide-open shots. They blow defensive assignments. They aren’t tough, either mentally or physically.
You can try to write off this five-game losing streak to a procession of road games, but that doesn’t cover the damage. They are 20-21, and in the famous words of football coach Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are.
That’s mediocre, at best.
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The Hornets dropped another one to the Celtics on Monday, 108-98 at TD Garden. That makes them 0-3 versus the Celtics, allowing Boston to clinch the four-game season series. More broadly, the Hornets are a combined 0-7 against the top three teams in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors and Celtics.
That portends terrible results in the playoffs, and that assumes quite optimistically that they are assured of making the playoffs.
This is the Hornets’ fourth season playing for coach Steve Clifford, and I’ve never seen this team more discombobulated defensively in that span. The numbers Monday: the Celtics shot 50 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3-point range.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said pregame the toughest thing about matching up with the Hornets is they don’t beat themselves. That looked like outdated information. Clifford used the word “egregious” to describe two defensive mistakes down the stretch of this one. The Hornets closed the deficit to three in the fourth quarter, but I never saw them winning Monday.
That’s partially about how good the Celtics – and particularly point guard Isaiah Thomas – are. Thomas scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and he legitimately belongs in a most valuable player discussion. (I’m not saying he’s the MVP, but he’s definitely in that zip code).
The Hornets got a solid game from Kemba Walker (24 points, but only six after halftime) and a season-high in points from power forward Marvin Williams (21).
But the defense was once again ragged at best. Small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has yet to be the game-in/game-out defender he was before the two shoulder surgeries last season. Center Cody Zeller struggled against Boston counterparts Al Horford and Kelly Olynyk, who shot a combined 14-of-23 from the field.
Beyond that, the bench hasn’t done much lately. Boston’s reserves outscored the Hornets’ backups 29 to 26, and that margin looked artificially close only because of some late-game baskets when this game was essentially decided.
The Hornets need a jolting trade-deadline deal similar to acquiring Courtney Lee from the Memphis Grizzlies last February. That’s a lot to ask of general manager Rich Cho, because the Lee trade proved to be a coup.
But the best thing the Hornets’ front office generally does is trades. Based on what we’ve watched the past two weeks, there is certainly incentive to shake something up on this roster.