The Charlotte Hornets looked nothing like a team that cared about winning and losing Monday night.
They didn’t defend. They didn’t rebound. They sure didn’t score in a 94-66 blowout loss to the Utah Jazz.
Granted, the Jazz had an extraordinary shooting night, making eight of its first nine 3-point attempts. However the Hornets (29-36) looked flat and disinterested throughout the three quarters when this game was decided.
The Jazz led by as many as 44 points. The Hornets failed to reach 50 points (46) through three quarters.
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Had Lance Stephenson not scored eight of his 17 points during a meaningless fourth quarter, the Hornets would have had only center Al Jefferson reach double-figures scoring. Jefferson finished with 10 points, two in the second half.
This loss, combined with victories by the Miami Heat (30-36) and Boston Celtics (30-36), left the Hornets 10th in the Eastern Conference. If they keep playing like they did Monday, they could be effectively out of the playoff race by the end of this five-game road trip.
“We can’t have any more of these,” point guard Kemba Walker said. “Our season is winding down. If we’re going to make the playoffs, we’ve got to do better from the start.”
It took just nine minutes for the Hornets to trail by 11. Midway through the second quarter the deficit was 28.
The Jazz (30-36) has been one of the NBA’s best teams since the All-Star break. Utah is huge, with 7-foot-1 center Rudy Golbert and 6-10 power forward Derrick Favors.
But that doesn’t explain away such domination. The Hornets were outrebounded 61-36. The Jazz made 15 of 24 3-point attempts.
The Hornets shot 23-of-78. They avoided the team record for fewest points in a game (59) only by scoring 20 in that meaningless fourth. That was the only time this game the Hornets reached 20 points in a quarter.
Flat starts have been a pattern of late, tracing back to home losses to the Washington Wizards and Sacramento Kings.
Coach Steve Clifford generally has praised his players for their effort this season. Not Monday.
“The people most responsible for effort are the head coach and the best players. It’s got to be a combined effort. This is mostly on me, but we need this to be something where they’re accountable to me and the best players,” Clifford said.
“As you saw tonight, when we’re not ready we’re not playing well. We don’t have that kind of talent level. We’ve won because of defense and rebounding. Those things take effort. If we’re not going to do that, we’re not going to win.”
The Hornets don’t have any time to dwell on this one. They will play the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
Clifford was asked if Utah’s 3-point accuracy to start the game had a deflating effect on the Hornets. He wasn’t buying that theory.
“I don’t know if you can be deflated if you have no energy or effort to start the game,” Clifford said. “They did a good job and we weren’t there. It was easy for them.
“The thing that’s concerning to me – which I told them – is over 82 games we have to be motivated, which we have been for the most part. We’ve hit a stretch right here where, whether because of fatigue or whatever, our effort isn’t where it needs to be.
“We can’t come in anywhere and half-step it and win.”