If Monday’s matchup with the Detroit Pistons accomplished nothing else, it eliminated an excuse going forward concerning a flaw that has held the Charlotte Hornets back:
They are capable of being a strong rebounding team. This hasn’t been about ability. It has been about applying themselves every night.
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The Pistons entered this game with the best total-rebound percentage in the NBA. Yet the Hornets beat them on the boards 57-41, a statistic that was certainly central to Charlotte’s 104-84 home victory.
Remember coach Steve Clifford saying after the loss to the Golden State Warriors that his team can’t pick and choose when to be physical? Seemingly that message resonated because the theme in both beating the Bulls in Chicago Saturday and the Pistons here was physicality.
“It’s like anything; it’s got to become who we are,” Clifford said Monday of the rebounding. “Make it our every-night thing.”
Some of this was circumstantial. The Hornets managed to get Pistons center Andre Drummond in foul trouble midway through the third quarter. Drummond is the NBA’s individual rebounding leader at 16.9 per game, and grabbed in only nine boards in 24 minutes Monday.
But there were reasons Drummond committed fouls. Cody Zeller, filling in at center for the injured Al Jefferson, attacked the basket consistently, scoring a season-best 20 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
This was the second strong game in a row for Zeller, who scored 17 points against the Bulls.
“Big Al is out of here for a couple of weeks. That’s my game (energy) and I have to bring it every night,” Zeller said.
“The first five or six games of the season we were rebounding well, and then we took a step back. That’s been the focus of our team for the last couple of games or so.”
The focal point of the rebounding Monday was power forward Marvin Williams, who matched a season-best with 12 boards. But Williams got plenty of help; Jeremy Lamb and Nic Batum grabbed seven rebounds each. Point guard Kemba Walker got up from a sick bed to grab nine rebounds, three short of his career high.
The Hornets listed Walker as doubtful after he missed morning shootaround. Then he showed up at the arena contending he could play. He got through warmups and started, finishing with 14 points to go with those nine boards.
Walker found it amusing postgame that he’d been listed as doubtful.
“I was sure I was going to play. I didn’t know what anybody was talking about,” said Walker. “When I first started the game I was more tired than usual, but (Clifford) got me out and then I got my second wind and was fine.”
Clifford had said if the Hornets were more mindful of rebounds, they would have lost to the Warriors by four or five points, not that 17-point blowout. Walker got the message.
“That’s something we’re paying very close attention to; rebounding is up to us to get in there and help guys. That’s got to be a full-team effort at that end of the floor.”
Before the game, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said the Hornets have the talent this season to contend in the Eastern Conference. That seemed a bit heady when he said it, but if they can commit to rebounding the way they did Monday, who knows?