Here’s Charlotte Hornets co-captain Al Jefferson’s hope for how his teammates will treat Tuesday’s 126-92 blowout of the Phoenix Suns:
A distant memory.
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Jefferson has an old soul and a post-up game to match. He has seen how great teams deal with success and adversity and it mostly comes down to this:
Don’t be distracted by what you just did, whether it be good or bad. Move on to the next task. And that next task is to dominate the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center.
That sounds easy considering the 76ers’ NBA-worst 8-52 record. But for whatever reason, the Sixers have been competitive with the Hornets, winning two of the last three matchups in Philadelphia.
Actually, Jefferson has a theory why the Sixers have been a nuisance to the Hornets of late: Complacency.
“This game will mean nothing if we go to Philly and lay an egg. We need to lock in on a game we’re supposed to win,” said Jefferson, who scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds against the Suns.
“I think we look at their record and go up there and relax (too much). Try to ease into the game where, despite their record, Philly plays hard every night. They play hard regardless of the outcome.
“That can be the most dangerous team you play against if you just go off their record and think, ‘That’s an easy game.’ We’ve done that two years in a row.”
If you’re looking for evidence of the Hornets’ capacity for complacency, think back to Jan. 6 and their previous meeting with the Suns. Phoenix was on a long losing streak and coach Jeff Hornacek’s job was in jeopardy.
His team’s mood was so in need of a boost that the day before the Hornets game Hornacek canceled practice and brought the Suns to a bowling alley to blow off steam.
Steve Clifford continuously warned his players going into that game that the Suns will see the Hornets as their out, just the way the Hornets perceived the Suns as the end to a four-game losing streak.
What happened? Arguably the worst performance of the season for the Hornets, who lost 111-102. The final score did not reflect how badly the Suns pushed around the Hornets that night.
Like Jefferson said, it’s remarkable how hard the Sixers play each game despite a significant deficit in talent. That’s why coach Brett Brown got a contract extension; because he’s holding up his end while the front office does a deep-drill rebuild.
Clifford knows Brown well. Brown’s father was one of Clifford’s first coaching mentors. So Clifford knows this game won’t be easy and the stakes are high this late in a push to the playoffs.
“Now we have to get refocused,” Clifford said. “We have not played well in Philadelphia. So we are going to need a similar approach and attitude, intensity and purpose.”
The Hornets made a statement in the first quarter Tuesday, pulling out to an 18-point lead. They never let the Suns up for air, as Charlotte led by as many as 43 points.
That granted Clifford the flexibility to sit all five starters in the fourth quarter. So there is no excuse Wednesday if the rotation players don’t look fresh against the 76ers.
Clifford emphasized post-game that the next 10 games could be make-or-break for the Hornets’ playoff chances. After the trip to Philadelphia the Hornets will play seven in a row at Time Warner Cable Arena where they are 20-9.
The trick is neither to dwell on Tuesday nor skip forward to Friday’s home game against the Indiana Pacers. At 31-28, the playoffs are in their grasp.
Now go hold on.