Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets lack fire in 118-108 loss to Milwaukee Bucks

Khris Middleton of the Bucks grabs a rebound against the Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist during the first half Tuesday at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte.
Khris Middleton of the Bucks grabs a rebound against the Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist during the first half Tuesday at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte. AP

The Charlotte Hornets hardly looked the part of a team contending for the playoffs Tuesday, falling behind early and losing to the Milwaukee Bucks 118-108 at the Spectrum Center.

“It’s pretty simple,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford. “In a game of this magnitude, where there’s a lot to play for, they put a lot more into it than we did. They played harder from the beginning. You’ve got to try. It’s hard to play against a good team in this league if you don’t try. It’s hard to pinpoint anybody who had the right care factor. That’s the bottom line.”

The loss kept the Hornets (33-41) in 11th place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, and they’re now three games out of eighth place with eight to play after the Miami Heat’s victory Tuesday against the Detroit Pistons. The Hornets will turn around and travel to play the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.

The Hornets were never in it against the Bucks (38-36), falling behind by as many as 22 points in the first half. The second half wasn’t much better, as Charlotte was unable to mount any kind of sustained comeback.

It all came back to the Hornets’ lack of effort, especially on defense, which Clifford termed “beyond bad.”

The Hornets, who had won four of their past five games, were again undone by their defense, which allowed the Bucks (38-36) to shoot 62.2 percent from the field. Milwaukee also clobbered the Hornets on the boards 42-31.

“He’s right,” Hornets guard Nic Batum said of Clifford’s characterization of the team’s play. “The way we started was pretty bad. Tonight we didn’t have it. Why, I don’t know. But we just didn’t have it.”

Three who mattered

Frank Kaminsky: Scored 20 for the Hornets, breaking out of shooting slump by going 9-of-15 from the field.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: Bucks’ 6-foot-11 forward was everywhere, as he usually is, scoring 20 points, grabbing eight rebounds and handing out two assists.

Tony Snell: Milwaukee guard helped his team get off to a fast start, finished with 26 points, including 4-of-8 3-point shooting.

Observations

▪ The first half could not have gone any worse for the Hornets as they fell behind by 22 points by halftime. They didn’t shoot well from long range, making just 2 of 15 3-pointers. Most problematic, however, was their defense. Milwaukee made 72.5 of its shots from the floor (29-of-40) and 56.3 percent (9 of 16) from beyond the arc.

▪ The Bucks also outworked the Hornets on the boards in the first half with a 24-15 edge.

▪ The only Hornets who had remotely respectable games in the first half were Kemba Walker (12 points) and Jeremy Lamb (11).

▪ It could hardly be called The Revenge of Spencer Hawes, but Hawes, traded by the Hornets to the Bucks in February, scored seven points in his return to Charlotte.

Worth mentioning

▪ Bucks guard Jason Terry, 39, has been in the NBA since 1999. That’s the same draft class of Baron Davis, a star with the old Hornets – and he’s been out of the league since 2012. Terry let a few kids sitting in the first row pass him the ball during warmups before the second half, a nice scene.

▪ North Carolina alum Marvin Williams won a bet with Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist when the Tar Heels beat the Wildcats on Sunday for a berth in the Final Four. Kidd-Gilchrist wore Williams’ Tar Heels letter jacket to the arena.

▪ The Hornets’ Marco Belinelli and the Bucks’ Khris Middleton butted heads in the fourth quarter. Belinelli got the worst of it, bleeding profusely.

They said it

“I think you should be able to play hard 82 times. That’s what the good teams do. That’s what the best teams do.” – Clifford.

“Sometimes you need that slap in the face, maybe, to get back on track again and win games.” – Batum.

“Charlotte’s one of the teams that’s chasing a playoff spot and we wanted to show that we are more desperate than them.” – Antetokounmpo.

Report card

C- OFFENSE: Four players in double figures, but that wasn’t nearly enough.

F DEFENSE: “Beyond bad,” according to Clifford.’

D COACHING: This team wasn’t ready to play when it needs every game.

David Scott: 704-358-5889, @davidscott14

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