The Charlotte Hornets must improve dramatically at defending an elite individual player without giving up guarding everyone else.
That was the emphatic message from the first-quarter box score in the season-opening loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, when those Bucks hit 7-of-11 3-pointers off the attention the Hornets paid to superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks later cooled off and the Hornets lost by only a point, but afterward coach James Borrego said his starters didn’t look physically or mentally prepared to start that game.
Borrego is going with the same five starters Friday against the Orlando Magic, but he said all lineup options -- including the small lineup at got the Hornets back into the opener in the second half -- are in play over the course of Game 2.
“They’ve got to come out with a more focused approach, a more detailed approach,” Borrego said of starters Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams, Nick Batum, Jeremy Lamb and Kemba Walker.
Other pre-game observations heading into Hornets-Magic:
▪ It wasn’t Borrego’s intention to play veteran point guard Tony Parker 20 minutes in the opener, but Borrego said the comeback-in-progress required it and Parker, in his 18th NBA season, wanted to keep playing. The plan is for Parker to average around 15 minutes per game.
Don’t be surprised if Parker, 36, either plays limited minutes or not at all in the second game of a back-to-back Saturday in Miami. Rookie point guard Devonte Graham was inactive again Friday, but figures to be active Saturday.
▪ Borrego wasn’t planing to go so small (with 6-7 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and 6-8 Nic Batum as his ‘big men”) for so long Wednesday, but that working appears to have reinforced his interest in experimentation: “All lineups are open right now. I like the versatility of our lineup: We’ll play small sometimes, we’ll play big sometimes.”
▪ Former Hornets coach Steve Clifford, now in his first season coaching the Magic, singled out Parker as a terrific addition to Charlotte’s roster: “Emotionally, you can see (a difference) when he’s on the floor -- he can organize and lead people. If he can stay healthy and continue to play, what was our biggest weakness for two years, trying to play without Kemba on the floor” is solved.
▪ Clifford said the day after last season ended (a week before he was fired) that last season’s Hornets team lacked the “spirit” of his previous four teams. I asked him Friday to elaborate. He said the reputation those Hornets teams established -- “We play hard, we play smart, we’re hard to play against” was no longer consistent game-to-game.
“It was the first year when I was there that we didn’t keep getting better as the year went on,” Clifford said.
“In this league, you have to be able to handle success and disappointment. So much of that comes with how you function , how you practice, how guys buy into their roles, if winning remains being the common goal for everybody in the room.”