Losing a random game to the Washington Wizards is no disgrace. That’s a team that beat the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers this season.
But think about the context of the Charlotte Hornets’ 113-98 loss Sunday: The Wizards had just been eliminated from playoff contention. They started the game without point guard John Wall (sore right knee) and lost shooting guard Bradley Beal in the second half to a sore pelvis.
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If you heard the way Wizards coach Randy Wittman droned through his pregame media responsibility, you’d have considered this a wake. And yet the team that looked like it was fighting for home-court advantage wore Wizards red-white-and-blue.
I don’t know what it is about day games, but the Hornets just can’t get their body clocks adjusted. This one started at noon for the Wizards and their fans. It started about 1:20 for the Hornets when they oh-so-briefly took back the lead in the third quarter after trailing by as many as 14.
The Hornets aren’t mathematically eliminated from home-court advantage, but that now feels like a highly remote possibility. They knew how important it was that they win out in the three remaining regular-season games.
Now they’ll play the Celtics in Boston Monday night before Wednesday’s regular-season finale against the Orlando Magic at Time Warner Cable Arena.
My guess? I’ll be driving to Atlanta Friday or Saturday for Game 1 against the Hawks at Philips Arena. None of the three possibilities – Miami Heat, Celtics or Hawks – is appealing, particularly without home-court advantage.
But the Hawks have owned the Hornets, winning 16 of the last 20 meetings. Oh, and the Hawks have been the hottest team in the Eastern Conference, beating the Celtics and Toronto Raptors of late.
The Hawks are in many ways what the Hornets aspire to be – among the best in both offensive and defensive efficiency. You could describe them as Spurs East, coached by former San Antonio assistant Mike Budenholzer, who now has oversight of player-personnel.
The Hawks have slipped a bit in 3-point accuracy this season, coming in 14th among 30 NBA teams. But as Hornets coach Steve Clifford has mentioned in the past, everyone on that team can make long-range shots. They define the power of spacing in the modern NBA game, which makes it so difficult to give any help defensively on Atlanta point guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder.
Of course, if the Hornets play next weekend anything like what they did Sunday, it won’t matter who they play.
Clifford used the word “readiness” constantly in the post-game to describe the overarching flaw Sunday. They are just awful this season in day games, as if someone should be clanging on pots and pans at sun-up in each of the players’ hotel rooms.
The NBA does its best to avoid playoff games overlapping. That can make for long breaks between games 1 and 2. It also means you could play at noon to 9:30 at night or any time in-between. It’s not as if the Hornets could put in a request for 7 p.m. games only.
Clifford knew this could get bad early on when the Hornets missed a block-out, setting up Wizards center Marcin Gortat for an easy basket in the lane. That was sure a pattern; by halftime Washington had outscored the Hornets 30-12 in points in the paint.
That’s uncharacteristic of this team. So were the 10 first-half turnovers. The Hornets are better offensively, but they still don’t have the firepower to overcome giving up any opponent shooting 53 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3-point range.
The Hornets have two games left before the real season happens. Seems like the most important thing now isn’t an opponent or a schedule, but getting back to what won 46 games.