Whatever else was wrong with the Charlotte Hornets during coach Steve Clifford’s first four seasons, you could count on them not beating themselves.
This team was low-turnover and low-foul. Each of the four past seasons the Hornets committed the fewest turnovers in the NBA.
An injury-ravaged preseason and a season opener on the road is hardly a large sample size, but the early returns aren’t encouraging. After averaging 16.8 turnovers in five preseason exhibitions, the Hornets gave away the ball 17 times Wednesday in a 102-90 loss to the Detroit Pistons.
Much of what Clifford values most about NBA coaching he received from Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who he worked for with the Orlando Magic. Clifford coached first-year Hornets center Dwight Howard as an assistant in Orlando. Howard committed 22 turnovers in the preseason, 4.4 per game. He had three turnovers Wednesday.
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Is this a blip, a function of the adjustment to new teammates? Or are the 2017-18 Hornets not valuing the ball as this group traditionally has under Clifford?
“We’ve just got to be better with the ball,” said Howard, who otherwise was efficient with 10 points, 15 rebounds and two blocked shots.
“We’ve got to be more strong when we get it, when opponents put us on our heels. That’s how we’re getting those turnovers.”
That’s how they are getting some of those turnovers. Others are just brain cramps. Perhaps that’s about the injuries that have disrupted establishing a rotation. It could partially be the adjustment to Howard and a rookie, Dwayne Bacon, in the starting lineup.
But this just isn’t them, and Clifford was quick to remind his team of that after the game.
“The biggest factor in the whole game was turnovers,” Clifford said. “Their defense was good; Avery Bradley (acquired by the Pistons from the Boston Celtics) brings another dimension with what he brings (defensively) to the passing lanes.”
But this wasn’t all the Pistons’ doing.
“Oh, we had some sloppy ones,” Clifford said of the turnovers, which resulted in 26 Detroit points. “If the (defender) is here, move the ball the other way. It’s these (careless) flip passes, and that’s not OK.”
Power forward Marvin Williams said it’s too early to view these turnovers as panic-worthy.
“We’re just not used to playing with each other - where certain guys want the ball, figuring out the offense,” said Williams. “We’ve always been a great team at taking care of the basketball. I’m not worried about it at all.”
The giveaways made offense easy for the Pistons, particularly for forward Tobias Harris, who made eight of his first 10 shots and finished with 27 points.
The Hornets next play Friday at home against the Atlanta Hawks, a franchise that chose to blow up its veteran roster and all but start over.
One of those changes was trading Howard to the Hornets. Clearly, Howard doesn’t want a repeat Friday at Spectrum Center against his hometown team, the one that dealt him away after a single season.
“It was the first real game for us,” Howard said. “But I expect better from our team, and we will be better next game.”
Howard said it. Now time to do it.